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One Amazing Sunday

It’s Monday evening and I’m still thinking about our Sunday. It was kind of a perfect day. We got the house cleaned up early, had a very productive planning meeting about the upcoming Alchemy Fest, we made a delicious dinner and were in bed nice and early. There were a few moments throughout the day that made me go, “wow, my life is good and my kids are amazing.” The kids are just so cool. They impress me all the time and they make my heart swell with love each and every day.

Alchemy (age 7 + 360 days)  is a witty, empathetic little soul that changes moods 2013-02-14 07.19.07quicker than I can keep up with. She’s been my sensitive little trailblazer ever since I can remember. She’s quiet and sweet…but she challenges me constantly. She practices her autonomy out on me first, just to see what limits can be pushed and what’s better left for another time. She’s a natural born leader, I see it in her. So, I try my best to let her be. When left to her own devices she will do a science experiment, invent a recipe, have a business meeting with her animals, give birth to something, direct a movie, fashion show or musical production and create an amazing mess in the process. She’s got a mean sweet tooth and a true love for mac-n-cheese. Her ideas are practical and fantastic. Her stories are visionary. Her compassion is endless. Finishing things and cleaning up…we’re working on that!

Ashton (19 months) is coming into his own personality and I’m absolutely tickled over what a “boy” he is. A momma’s 2013-02-21 16.11.53boy for sure, but a boy all the same. This amuses me because I have a sister and a niece and I just haven’t spent that much time with little boys. I actually kind of wondered if I would know what to do with a boy. Love him, that’s what I do. I love blowing on his sweaty little feet when I take his shoes off and washing his muddy hands after he spends even 2 minutes outside. I love how he freaks out over a trucks (zhoo zhoo) and balls (baa) and Elmo (melmo). I love that all he wants to eat for breakfast is sausage and almond milk while his sister happily munches on fruit and yogurt. And I really love when he laughs, and makes monster noises and oh my, when he dances…what a sight. That boy, whether it’s a theme song to TV show or anything with a beat, he can’t help himself.  He’s got some moves! I love that he’s talking so much and he doesn’t care if the words are right. He just puts a sound to what he wants and goes with it. I really have to hold back from repeating his new word for things and letting it become part of my vocabulary. “Oh, bok! You want milk?” is an example of me showing my understanding of what he’s trying to say but reinforcing the actual word.

All of these things make them special and lovely but no more so than any other kid is to their parent. But on this particular Sunday two things happened that made me just stop and say, wow…these kids are something else.

2013-04-15 23.33.48I’ll begin with Alchemy. She had been playing quietly in her room for a few hours getting some alone time away from her brother. She emerged with her stuffed dog. It was “Lady” from, Lady and the Tramp. She says, “This dog just had puppies!” I congratulated Lady on her accomplishment. Then Alchemy tells me, “She got a little tear, just like you did when you had Ashton. So, I sewed her up just like you got stitched.”  She’s referring to my repair from Ashton’s birth, my fast and furious boy who arrived all of the sudden and didn’t allow much time for a stretching. That’s what I think happened, anyways. Alchemy’s reenactment of my experience in her imaginary play, 19 months later just floored me. And she actually sewed the bottom of her stuffed animal, with a needle and orange embroidery floss. Amazing processing, empathy and compassion. Just, wow.

Then we have Ashton. It began with bedtime. We all brushed our teeth and piled 2013-04-15 23.30.21into our family bed which is two queen sized mattresses on the floor next to each other. Ashton points at  Lady, who was still being well cared for by Alchemy and says, “duck, duck, duck!” That’s his word for dog, duck…most animals right now, I think. Alchemy was not going to be giving her brother the dog so I searched for other stuffed animals to replace her with. It wasn’t working, he just pushed everything away. I brought him back to bed and tried to nurse him. He was restless and finally got away from me. He got out of bed and his little feet pitter pattered out of our room and into the the dark living room. I thought, OK…he’ll be back soon, I suppose. We listened as he rummaged around out there for a bit. He came back with a big remote control monster truck in hand.  He hauled it up and into bed and got himself back into nursing position with his truck close enough to touch as he drifted off to sleep. I just gazed at him in amazement. When he couldn’t have the first thing that he wanted, he thought of a suitable replacement. He couldn’t communicate it yet so he just got up and got it. At 19 months. Again, just wow.

Do you see what I’m talking about here? These kids are freaking amazing. I just love them. That is all.

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Taking Green to the Next Level

ImageBy: Jennifer Oppelt

I had a wake-up call recently when my 7 year old daughter, Alchemy and my 11 year old niece, Trinity helped me get ready for a party. I went to the store and left my husband, Joran home with the girls. They were supposed to clean the bathrooms for me while I was gone. Brilliant idea, right? They asked Joran what to use and went under the kitchen sink and found Tub and Tile cleaner. This is NOT what I use to clean our bathrooms. I use those expensive “all natural” cleaners. Brands like Seventh Generation and Method. The bleach based toxic tub and tile cleaner was there from our old house where I occasionally had to get serious with a mold problem. So, I come home to a bleachy smelling house and several bleach stained dish towels. First, I praised the girls for doing such a great job on the bathrooms. Then, being a little more than agitated I asked Joran why in the world he let them use bleach. And finally, realized it was my responsibility as head of household decisions such as these to make sure that all products in our home are safe for us and safe for the environment. This is where my mission began to step up my green game but at the same time, save us some money! Also, I want to reduce the use of packaging, especially plastics.  And why ship a bottle of cleaning spray or laundry detergent that is mostly water? And why pay for that? There has to be a better way.

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called Chemical Nation. It was an eye opening educational film about just how toxic our households can be. It’s amazing how we are conditioned to think that we need all of this stuff to have a clean house. It’s jut not true. Cleaning products should be simple and affordable.

From here the research began. I found a bunch of homemade cleaning product recipes online. I went out and collected all of the standard ingredients; vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, borax, Castile soap and some essential oils (I’m starting with lavender, lemongrass and tea tree). Now, I experiment with the recipes and see what works best.  I made the first one today, laundry detergent. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Stay tuned for the recipes to come!

Photos from the Camera of a 5 Year Old

In January 2012, my daughter Alchemy asked me to PLEASE finally download the pictures from her Hello Kitty Point and Shoot digital camera. She received the camera for Christmas 2010 when she was 5 years old. She had asked me to dump the photos several times before but it was always at the wrong time, so I put it off. Finally, she asked me on a Saturday morning when I had no good reason to say no. I plug in the camera to find out that there were 972 photos taken over the course of a year. As I flipped through the photos I was surprised at how good some of them were. I also really enjoyed seeing a year of our life from Alchemy’s perspective. During this year I became pregnant and gave birth to her brother and we moved into our new home. So many good memories along with plenty of pictures from the backseat of our car, pictures of herself, litter, her toys, family & friends and whatever else caught her eye.

When my husband Joran caught on to this treasure trove of images he decided to get the whole collection put into a video format. At his work, Creative Loafing they were having a one-minute video contest. Just for fun (we were disqualified from winning) with the help of co-worker Mathew Schiel, they compressed the 972  images down to a one-minute slide show and uploaded it onto the contest page. Here is what they came up with.

Even though we couldn’t win, the video did screen at the awards ceremony so Alchemy got to see her movie on the big screen. It was a really fun experience for her.

If the video moved a little too fast for you, here is a sampling of my favorite images…

Ashton’s Birth Story

photo by Todd Bates

In December of 2010 Ashton Slane Oppelt was consciously conceived with the hopeful intention of completing our family with a baby boy. Our daughter Alchemy came into this world 6 years earlier. A few years after her birth I began dreaming about her little brother. My vision of him was so clear that I almost had no doubt that my next pregnancy would bring Ashton to our family. On March 28, 2011, an ultrasound confirmed that we were in fact having a boy!

It was a great pregnancy filled with energy for exercising and cravings for protein. Fish tacos and hamburgers were my favorite foods. Followed by B-B-Q Chicken and Tuna Subs. A far cry from my cravings with Alchemy which consisted of fruit, yogurt, cereal, pancakes & ice cream. As I approached my third trimester, we bought a home which while very exciting brought on a great deal of hard work. About a month before my due date, all painting and projects were complete and our new home just was just as perfect as it could be.

August arrived and I began to get my work duties wrapped up so that I could take a little time off which is no easy task when you own a business. One of my large accounts was starting  4 new wellness classes in the first week of September when I knew that I would not be available so I had to work very smart to get things done and the rest communicated properly to those who were helping me while I was on maternity leave.

On Friday, August 12th I went for my prenatal visit at the birthing center and I was surprised to hear that I was 1 cm dilated and 75% effaced. On Sunday, the 14th I began to lose my mucus plug. I seemed like Ashton may come before his due date of August 22nd which was fine with me since we were past the 37 week mark which meant that it was safe to deliver at the birthing center anytime. On Tuesday, August 16th at about 9 p.m. I noticed that I had been having some fairly strong contractions every 5 minutes or so. I stayed up for hours timing contractions and feverishly getting work done in case this was the start of my labor. I called my mom who was to be part of my birth team. She was in Ft. Myers attending to my grandmother who had recently been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. She needed plenty of notice to get back into town in time so I wanted her to know that I may be in early stages of labor. All signs  pointed to that conclusion. The contractions never let up that night but they didn’t get any more intense or closer together either.

The next day, my mom did come back into town and stayed with me. I was relieved to have her there. Joran decided to work from home and I let my work associates know that I felt that the baby was coming very soon and I was going to begin my leave. Through the day on Wednesday, my contractions sort of faded away and returned a few times. I could not wait for my prenatal appointment on Thursday so I could see if I had made any progress. That appointment showed that I was 2-3 cm dilated, still about 75% effaced and his head was quite low. But, my contractions had practically subsided and I began to feel discouraged. I made an appointment that afternoon at Thank You Mama for acupuncture to help move things along.  Over the next few days things intensified and then relaxed again and again. My mom decided to go back to Ft. Myers promising to return as soon as I gave the word.

The next several days were frustrating. I felt that I had prematurely began my maternity leave and it was too complicated to undo it. My new job was to do whatever I could to encourage Ashton out of my womb. I walked 2 miles a day, I did squats, walked up and down stairs, cleaned the floor on my hands and knees, my house was spotless! I drank red raspberry tea, I cooked and baked and packed and repacked my birthing center bags several times.  I took naps, I ate really well, I got some relaxing massages, Joran and I enjoyed some nice intimate times but still,  Ashton’s due date came and went just like my contractions with no baby in sight.

As I passed my 40 week mark anxiousness turned into worry. My mom came back into town and stayed with me more for moral support than any sense that I was going to be in active labor soon. Through this whole time, Joran continued to work at home and stayed by my side almost 24/7. I felt so loved and secure just knowing that he was there whenever Ashton decided to grace us with his presence. I scheduled another acupuncture appointment for Monday, August 29th. Following the treatment, my contractions increased over the next 48 hours only to fade away each time a fell asleep at night. On Wednesday, I was 41 weeks and looking at the possibility of having to change my plans of a water birth at Breath of Life Birthing Center to being induced at the local hospital. Looking for more ways to be proactive, I booked a specific massage  at Thank You Mama with Annie that helps release the pelvic muscles and allow space for the baby to get into optimal position. I felt a lot of shifting and movement that day and the next, but still…no baby.

Thursday, September 1st I had an appointment for a non-stress test at the birthing center. Midwife, Vikki Bennett explained the process of what would happen if I went past 42 weeks. She also gave us a list of natural labor inducers some of which I had already tried. She asked how we felt about castor oil. I told her I was holding off on that one but at this point I’d try anything. We decided that I would go home and get a good nights sleep and when I woke up I’d try the castor oil and maybe nipple stimulation with the breast pump.

photo by Joran Oppelt

On the morning on September 2nd, Joran took Alchemy to school and my mom made my castor oil beverage. She mixed 2 ounces of castor oil with apple juice and cinnamon, heated to make a “cider” type drink. At 9 a.m. I dutifully gulped it down and chased it with some red raspberry tea. Over next two hours I cleaned and I walked around the house. I was surprised that I hadn’t even experienced the cleansing effect of the castor oil yet. I set up my breast pump and decided to give that a try. There was a very specific routine in my paperwork from the birthing center to follow.  The pumping did stimulate some contractions and produced almost 2 ounces of colostrum to my surprise. After awhile I began to feel kind of irritated with the pumping because I could not  get through more than 3 minutes without a contraction beginning and when that happened I was supposed to stop pumping until it subsided. Maybe this should have been my first clue that active labor was beginning but I had so many false starts over the past few weeks that I was reluctant to make that conclusion. After awhile, I decided to take a break a lay down for a bit. It wasn’t long before I felt restless and wanted to get back up again. I pumped a few more rounds and then decided to take a shower and start to get ready because I had a tentative appointment at Thank You Mama for another session of acupuncture at 1:00. It was looking like I was going to need that appointment.

All of the sudden my stomach made a terrible noise and I felt a wave-like cramp go through my large intestine. I ran to the bathroom, the cleanse had begun. As soon as felt like I was done, a strong contraction began. I stood in the bathroom until it passed then I went out to report the news to my mom and Joran. I sat down on the couch and it started all over again. Bowel cleanse, contraction, a minute or two on the couch, repeat. Pretty soon it would have been time to leave for my appointment and I decided that I could not get in the car right then, things were too intense. This conclusion made me think to call the birthing center. To my delight, Vikki was on call that day and I gave her the update, my contractions were strong (I couldn’t speak during them) and 3 minutes apart but it had only been like this for maybe an hour. It seemed like active labor had just begun so I figured I’d have many hours ahead. Vikki told me to do whatever I felt I wanted to do…I could labor at home a bit longer or come on in.

Just to be safe, I told Joran to go get Alchemy from school and I planned on going in to the Birthing Center after he returned. It seemed like Joran was gone forever. I got myself ready and paced around the house, leaning over the arm of the couch for each contraction which only got stronger each time. Suddenly, I felt Ashton shift down. I began to get the shakes and I felt unable to stay on top of things. I was in transition and I started to panic. I suddenly got onto the couch and curled up in fetal position. I said to my mom, “I need to NOT work with gravity right now.” And just as quickly, I jumped up to do more preparations for getting out the door. The second that Joran arrived with Alchemy we got in the car and made the mad dash towards the birthing center. Luckily my mom thought to call and tell them that we were on our way, they said they would fill the tub and be ready for us.

The next 35 minutes was the most challenging experience of my life so far. Ashton was ready to be born, right then and there. I resisted the urge to push for the entire drive down US19 and up East Bay. Joran drove with precision and speed like he was born for this moment. My mom reminded me of the feather breath and kept both me and Alchemy calm with her reassuring words. I found that keeping my focus external and looking at all the random things along the highway helped me keep the pushing urges under control. I was so relieved when I finally spotted the sign for the birthing center. We made it.

I marched through the front door and made my way down the hall to my birthing room. I immediately stripped off my clothing and hopped right in the tub. Suddenly, I was surrounded by my team and I was able to let go of all that pent-up energy and allow Ashton to make his entrance…or exit as the case may be. Joran was the last to arrive in the room after parking the car and I summoned him to be in front of me, holding my hands. My pushing phase only lasted about 20 minutes.It felt amazing, such a relief after having to hold back for so long. My vocalizations were loud, deep and powerful. Definitely a, “I am woman, hear me roar” kind of experience. When Ashton’s head emerged, I could hear the sweet ooh’s and aww’s from Alchemy and the women behind me (I was positioned on my knees, leaning over the edge of the tub, so I couldn’t see anything). I was told that Ashton’s amniotic sack had not broken, so he looked like a little space man in his sheer bubble. I could not wait another minute to see my baby so I put everything I had into the next couple pushes.

photo by Joran Oppelt

At 3:11 p.m., Ashton was born. Vikki instructed me to swing my leg over the umbilical cord and get positioned on my bottom. Then, I lifted my baby out of the water and held him in my arms. Wow. There’s just nothing else in the world like this feeling. Pure exhilaration and love. Amazing. After a few minutes Vikki asked Joran if he would like to cut the cord. I think he may have been in some kind of baby love stupor because he kind of hesitated so Vikki asked Alchemy if she’d like to do it. Alchemy jumped to the challenge!  It took her a bit of effort to work her way through the tough cord but she got it. I am so proud of her for being brave and strong through this experience.

After a bit, they got me out of the tub and settled into bed. Unlike my birth with Alchemy, I did not have heavy bleeding and my post baby recovery went just fine. Ashton began nursing very easily which was delightful and relieving. Just as we had settled in, the last but certainly not least member of my birthing team arrived. My good friend Nancy had missed the birth because it happened so quick but she arrived in time to hold my hand during my required stitches from a small tear. It was a couple of hours after the birth before they did the newborn exam and found out what his stats were. 8 lbs. 11 .5 ounces and 21 inches long, a big healthy boy, indeed!

A few hours later we asked about when we could go home and they said, whenever we felt ready. Being able to go home  just hours after delivery is just one wonderful perks of birthing at a Birthing Center. We began to prepare for our journey home. Mary and Vikki checked our vitals one last time, reviewed the early baby care instructions with us and sent us on our way to enjoy labor day weekend with our new edition! After a quick stop at Cracker Barrel for some southern style comfort food to-go, all four of us were tucked into our large family bed at about 10 p.m.

photo by James Ostrand

I can’t say enough good things about the Breath of Life Birthing Center, my midwife Vikki and the birth assistant Mary. It is such a gift to be able to birth in peace without medical interventions. I am so thankful that I was able to have this experience. I am also grateful for the gifted practitioners at Thank You Mama, I know that all of the beautiful treatments that I received contributed to Ashton’s strong and healthy arrival. I want to also thank my birth team (my mom, my mother-in-law, Alchemy, Nancy and of course my wonderful & amazing husband, Joran). I feel blessed to be surrounded by positive people who make me feel so loved and supported. Thank you, thank you and thank you! And most of all, I am thankful for my baby boy, Ashton. I knew I would hold you in my arms one day, thank you for choosing me to be your mother.

Alchemy’s Birth Story

Alchemy was born at home on April 20, 2005 with the help of a Midwife from Labor of Love and my wonderful support team. Here is her story:

On April 19th, 2005 I woke up with some fairly intense contractions. I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions for a few days so I didn’t think much of it for awhile. I noticed the pattern and after a few hours I decided to call my midwife. I made an appointment to come in later that day for an exam. Just in case this was it, I got my friend Kelly to join me for a day full of errands. We got the car washed and then went to lunch at Acropol Inn (yummy chicken pita!) , and had some interesting energetic experiences along the way. I remember my senses being heightened and I was very aware of animals and they seemed to be keenly aware of me. No recreational drugs necessary for this surreal experience! Also, as I walked past a table at the restaurant, a woman’s drink flew off the table and fell at my feet. Both of us knew that no one touched it. Very strange, indeed.  When I got to the birthing center I was dilated 2 cm and 98% effaced. My midwife told me that it could still be another day or two before I delivered. However, on the way home things intensified. We stopped at the health food store and I found myself gripping the counter and breathing noticeably during contractions. We decided to call it a day and settle in at home.

Joran left work early, we canceled our dinner plans and I had my friend begin calling the birth team. After giving our midwife an update she told me to eat a hearty meal because it may be the last time that I would want to eat for awhile. We had lasagna and then I had a peanut butter milkshake. I remember that we put in the movie Amelie to help pass the time but I was restless and could not focus on the screen. Soon, the birth team began to arrive. I had my mother as my Doula, my friend and massage therapist Nancy, my acupuncturist Christy, my friend Kelly, my mother-in-law Vicki and of course, Joran. Nancy gave me an amazing massage before things got too intense. Christy, my acupuncturist gave me some needles and a tens unit to help with the pain.  After some time I was riding each contraction like a wave. The needles kept me quite on top of everything. I did not like it when we had to remove them to get up because I would get cold and the pain would come on intensely. My midwife, Marian was called around midnight because my contractions were right on top of each other. When she and her assistant got there I was only 4 cm dilated. I was shocked, I expected more. Marian asked me when I last got up and walked around. I had no idea, so we removed the acupuncture  needles and I decided to take a shower.

In the shower the contractions became very intense. Even though the heat and the water felt great, my legs felt weak and I wanted to get out. I had trouble even imagining lifting my legs over the tub wall. There seemed like just seconds between contractions, not enough time to make a move like that. I remember it being quite an ordeal to get me out of the bathroom. I wanted to get out of the shower, but I didn’t want to get out of the shower. Once I finally got out I wanted my clothes back on but it seemed like too much trouble to dry off. So Joran said, “Don’t worry about clothes, let’s just get you into the bed”. But no, that did not make me happy either. I was going through transition. This is where every woman who gives birth thinks that there is no way that she can keep going. If there was an option to say, “Never mind, I don’t want to do this anymore”, I suspect there would be quite a few less babies born! I had no idea what was happening at the time but my cervix had dilated from 4 cm to 8 in only about a half an hour, while standing in my bathroom.

Eventually, we managed to get me dressed and back to the bed. My water broke just after the midwife checked my cervix. Minutes later I felt the urge to push. Pushing was good. Actually, it was amazing. It felt powerful unlike the complete freak out of transition. I had a stuffed up nose so I had a hard time with my breath but my mother kept me calm and Joran kept me strong and focused. At one point the midwife assistant, Daniella asked me if I wanted to touch my baby’s head. I did and, wow. I felt a huge sense of power and an urgency to get her out. Any fatigue that I was experiencing vanished and I was determined to make the next push really count.

At 4:59 am on April 20, 2005, Alchemy Nirvana was born. Joran got to do a 4 handed catch with the midwife and he was the one who placed her on my chest. True to home birthing tradition, I was able to hold my baby for over an hour before she was taken to my side for examination. I did have a little scare after the birth. I began to hemorrhage just after delivery. The Pitocin shots that were administered did not help. The midwife was getting nervous and they were discussing transporting me to the hospital. Christy the acupuncturist tried placing a needle just above the pubic bone and that stopped the bleeding immediately. Everyone was amazed and quite relieved. I will be forever grateful for Christy’s presence there that day.

After the big scare was over we all sat around and marveled at my beautiful baby. Kelly heated up some macaroni and cheese that I had prepared ahead of time. Mac-n-cheese never tasted so good, even at about 7 a.m. The birth team cleaned up and changed my bed linens while I got myself cleaned up. One by one they all headed home. My mom and Kelly stayed but went to their sleeping places in the house to get some rest. Alchemy, Joran and I laid down as well. But, I could not sleep despite the major physical feat that I just went through. The sun was streaming through the blinds and Alchemy was just too amazing to take my eyes off of. She and Joran slept so sound and after a very long time I got to sleep, for a bit.

I simply can not imagine a better birth. I loved everything about bringing Alchemy into this world, from finding the perfect mate, to planning her conception, the pregnancy and finally giving birth to her.

At the time of this post, I am pregnant with Alchemy’s little brother and looking forward to another beautiful birth experience in August.

Remembering

I remember this time of year in 2005 when the sun shone brightly through my kitchen window casting intense shadows of my pregnant belly onto my favorite painting.

I remember the way that the oak pollen fell slowly from the trees covering everything like Florida snow.

I remember longing for warmer weather so that I could swim and experience weightlessness. When I did visit the ocean it was surreal, her floating inside of me, me floating inside of her (the ocean). Embracing my new position in the circle of life and all that is feminine.

I remember sleepless nights and exhausting days, the pain from the athletic event of walking the length of the Super Target parking lot.

I remember feeling insecure one moment and more beautiful than ever the next. The unfounded fears about the multitude of things that could destroy my family were unbearable at times.

I remember going to countless shows. Alchemy rocking out inside of me, safe and protected. Knowing that these days were limited, enjoying my freedom while it lasted.

I remember the look on Joran’s face the first time he heard her heartbeat, saw her ultrasound and felt her kick. I know that there were times that Joran had trouble relating to the fact that there was actually a life growing inside of me. I know that there were times that he was scared. But when it clicked, it really clicked. There is nothing like seeing a man become a father.

I remember preparing to give birth and the slow retreat inward to a place inside myself that I never knew existed. A place where her and I worked diligently together toward the goal of meeting face to face.

I remember the magical day that Alchemy was born. 22 hours of labor. A beautiful home birth. An amazing support team. Joran solid and strong, there for me every moment. She arrived at 4:59 am on April 20, 2005.  As Joran placed her on my chest the three of us became a family. Life will never be the same, and that is a good thing.

Lasting Love: Kevin & Denise

How did you & your partner meet?

Kevin: I first saw Denise in Miami International Airport but we actually met in a cave in Yucatan.  It was like meeting a cousin, there was an ease about it.  It was 1984.

Denise: I first met Kevin when he, his wife (at that time) and I were part of a tour group in Mexico.

How long have you been together?

Kevin: In unrelated timing our former relationships exploded within a couple of years of each other.  I had been living far away working in radio and got back into Florida in 1990, my relationship evaporated in Orlando just before I came to work at a Rock station in Tampa.  Our first big date was Bike Week 1991.  This was a profound moment as Denise met me upstate and everything she needed for the week fit into one saddle bag.  It still fascinates me.    The courtship was long, we developed a committed dedication to one another and then in 2003 we were married in the fairy realm.

Denise: Well, we met in 1984 but it was seven years and some major life changes that we both experienced before we began the relationship that we have today. We were married on a mid-summer’s day in 2003.

How did you know that your partner was “the one”?

Kevin: There was no real moment of recognition; it was as if it always was.  The comfort I felt when we first met when there was no potential for a relationship was the basis for the relationship moving forward when we crossed paths again.

Denise: I loved the way he celebrated me when I was just being myself and at some point in our long journey, I decided I wanted to experience that for a lifetime.


How do you and your partner get through challenging times?

Kevin: We base everything in our relationship on the premise that we are here to grow Spiritually, when we need to confront a challenge we keep in mind that joy is the only way to progress.  We choose no suffering, so no matter how big the situation we do not allow it to be something to take us away from each other.

Denise: We talk…I mean really talk…it’s one of the ways that we are very compatible. We look for resolution in all matters, we choose to live in joy and we seek peace.

Any kids?

Kevin: We have an amazing blended family.  Denise has two daughters; Jen, who I think is 30, and Amanda who is also 30, there are five and half years between them.  I have a son Seamus who is 21.  All three have a great appreciation of one another.  Seamus is tight with his brother-in-law Joran who is also one of his music mentors. We have brilliant, grand daughters Trinity 9 (Amanda) and Alchemy 5 (Jen and Joran).

Denise: Yes! Together we have three adult children…Jennifer, Amanda and Seamus, they are all amazing. We have the best son-in-law in the world, Joran. And we are totally blissed out by our grand daughters Trinity Skye and Alchemy Nirvana! Our kids and their kids are our greatest treasure!

What is one thing about your partner that makes you incredibly happy?

Kevin: It is impossible to be anywhere near Denise and not feel wonderful — about everything.  I love how well this is experienced by everyone who encounters her.  She lives in love and finds it everywhere.

Denise: Just one…hummm? His desire for us to be together…because I have the same desire…it works really well and makes us both very happy.

What is one thing about your partner that drives you up the wall?

Kevin: Tough question, Denise is a living saint.

Denise: I choose not to be driven up the wall, it’s one of those things that we choose in life.

What’s your secret to keeping a happy, healthy relationship?

Kevin: If people make a decision to be sanctuary for each other it is easy to stay together. A lot of it has to do with deliberate intention.  If people hold their relationship as a living entity that must survive, it isn’t likely that it will be allowed to falter.  It is also important to hang out and lavish each other with as much time as you can.  If you have kids, include them in the hugs and cuddling but make sure they see you being huggy and feely together as well.   Do physically enriching things together… we like YOGA!

Denise: It took a long time for Kevin and I to find each other, so we have made a conscious decision to live in the moment and relish our time together. We support each other, bend for each other and share the leading role. We recognize and honor each other’s individual traits and qualities. We celebrate all of the ways that we are perfectly suited for each other. We look for ways to help balance each other. We share our dreams and help to move each other forward. Above all, we see the divine spirit in each other and have vowed to protect each other in this life’s journey.

What’s some advice you would give for those who are still searching for love?

Kevin: For guys; be man enough to go to yoga class.  The quality of people who go to yoga is high.  If you are a woman, I have no real good idea but realize that you have a responsibility to yourself to seek someone who will celebrate you.  You deserve it.

Denise: Know that everyone in your life has a reason for being there…in any given moment. Everyone that you have a relationship with, serves a very important purpose. Love is everywhere. Enjoy its many facets. If you find a person who makes you smile…a lot…hang out and enjoy the ride. If you find a kindred spirit who cherishes the essence of your being and wants to celebrate you in this life…let them!

Lasting Love: Ivan & Kelly

How did you & your partner meet?

Ivan: Back in August 2001 in Gainesville, we had mutual friends, but we despised each other. For a few months, we would gnarl and sneer when the other entered the room. Yet, for some cosmic reason, one day we didn’t and checked each other out. We struck up a conversation and the rest is history.

Kelly: I looked at Ivan a million times…nothing. Then one night, there we were..a glance became a stare and that was it!

How long have you been together? If married, how long have you been married?

Together 9 years, 1 month and change. Married since March 2009.

How did you know that your partner was “the one”?

Ivan: For me, it was one night about 5 months into the relationship. We were at her house watching Bill Cosby’s “Himself” and it just popped into my head. We looked at each other and we both said “I Love You”. We moved in together 2 months later. Granted the wedding took a while, but there was never a doubt in our minds that we were “destined” to be together.

Kelly: I was so in love with Ivan before we actually said, “I love you”. Ivan had an old VW van which would frequently have mechanical issues. Every time he left in the morning I would secretly pray that his van would not start so he did not have to leave…I wanted every second with him!

How do you and your partner get through challenging times?

Ivan: With understanding, communication and patience. We never go to bed mad at each other and always talk it out, no matter how uncomfortable. Walking out is never an option.

Kelly: Always working things out..even if we are talking until we are blue in the face. There are certain lines that we respect and do not cross in our relationship because once you cross lines there is no turning back. Our golden rule is NEVER walking out on an argument. Love is love, but love is work. If you are willing to work at it, it will never let you down.

Any kids? If yes, how many & what ages.

2 girls, 9 months.

What is one thing about your partner that makes you incredibly happy?

Ivan: That I can count on her for anything and that she makes me want to be a better man. Also, that she is an amazing mother. I could’ve never guess how amazing she has been the last 9 months.

Kelly: Ivan would move heaven and earth for myself and our beautiful daughters. I knew that he would be an amazing husband and father but he continues to outdo himself.

What is one thing about your partner that drives you up the wall?

Ivan: Her disgusting smoking habit. 🙂

Kelly: His budget restrictions 🙂

What’s your secret to keeping a happy, healthy relationship?

Ivan: Having the same outlook on life and family values. I think people need to complement each other and not compete or try to out do each other. Also, say what you want, but learning how to share money and assigning “roles” in the relationship is crucial. It’s old school, but it works for us.

Kelly: Could not have said it better….

What’s some advice you would give for those who are still searching for love?

Ivan: Don’t search for it. You’ll never find it. Let it happen and don’t sabotage yourself. Relationships are hard and all about compromise. You have to be willing to say “I’m Sorry” for the rest of your life. It’s not a bad thing, but a fact of allowing yourself to be part of something greater than you.

Kelly: Rest assured, love will find you. When it does find you, know that nothing comes easy and love requires work and sacrifice. The grass is not always greener on the other side, as so many have strayed only to return with guilt and regret.

“You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have really lived, are the moments when you have done things in a spirit of love.”
~ Henry Drummond .

Lasting Love: Jen & Joran

My husband Joran & I are about to celebrate our 7 years married and 11 years together anniversary! While reflecting on our relationship and what makes us work, a blog post started brewing. I decided to create a survey for the two of us to fill out with questions about what makes our relationship work. Then, I decided to take it a step further and ask a few others who are in successful relationships the questions to add to the project. I was delighted by the answers I received, especially from the men. I was moved to tears sometimes to see how much tenderness there is in the hearts of my dear friends. I actually got more replies back than I expected. So, I’ve included my favorite lines from the surveys at the end of the post but I plan on posting the other interviews in their entirety as separate blog entries. Stay tuned on that!

First, here is the conversation that took place between Joran and I on Facebook as I convinced him to fill out my relationship survey without letting him know what I was really up to.

Subject: Fill this out

Between Joran Slane Oppelt and You

Jennifer Oppelt September 12 at 9:23am

Hey babe, don’t ask questions, just fill this out! It’s for a project I’m working on. Thanks.

Joran Slane Oppelt September 12 at 2:45pm

Um, OK. Only if you promise to show me YOUR answers. 😉

Jennifer Oppelt September 12 at 8:56pm

🙂 don’t worry, I’ll show you mine ♥

Joran Slane Oppelt September 12 at 9:00pm

You’re so dirty.

Jennifer Oppelt September 13 at 6:39am

yup

Joran Slane Oppelt September 13 at 9:44am

Well, I’m waiting …

Jennifer Oppelt September 13 at 10:26am

ha, ha…well you’re going to keep waiting. It has something to do with your anniversary present. I told you to not ask questions.

Joran Slane Oppelt September 13 at 11:56am

Ah. Gotcha.

Relationship Survey:

How did you & your partner meet?

Jen: Gita show at Club More. My mom & Kevin brought me. Joran and I were introduced and it felt like the whole world just stopped for a second.

Joran: At a bar.

How long have you been together? If married, how long have you been married?

11 years together and 7 married

How did you know that your partner was “the one”?

Jen: That whole world stopping for a second was a clue. But, I was skeptical. It took a few months before we started dating but once we did, I moved in almost immediately.

Joran: When I couldn’t imagine myself with anyone else.

How do you and your partner get through challenging times?

Jen: We’ve only had a few rough spots, and they were not easy. But, at the end of the day, I always knew I wasn’t going anywhere. And either was he. So really, pure stubbornness to not give up has gotten us through the challenging times.

Joran: Talking openly and having faith in our future.

Any kids? If yes, how many & what ages.

The beautiful and always entertaining, Alchemy Nirvana Oppelt. Age 5.

What is one thing about your partner that makes you incredibly happy?

Jen: The way my head fits just perfectly on his chest.

Joran: Her endurance.

What is one thing about your partner that drives you up the wall?

Jen: The Parmesan cheese left all over the kitchen counter after he makes a frozen pizza.

Joran: Her insecurities.

What’s your secret to keeping a happy, healthy relationship?

Jen: After having Alchemy, it became a little challenging to be attentive to each others needs. I try to keep doing the things that I know he loves, even if I’m tired. Like giving him a massage, bringing him a cup of coffee in the morning and making his favorite meals. Also, Alchemy does a sleepover with a friend or one of the grandmas at least once a month. This is VERY important to keeping us happy and healthy!

Joran: As you age, life changes you physiologically, psychologically and spiritually as well as physically, so in order to stay compatible with your partner, you must evolve together. This means continually making time for the others’ needs and always being open and honest, with no room or time for overt or covert pathologies. They are your best friend.

What’s some advice you would give for those who are still searching for love?

Jen: Make a list of what you want, be specific, wait for it, don’t settle for an asshole but don’t expect perfection either. I think the most important quality in a mate is that they “get you”. Wait for someone who makes you feel good about being exactly who you are.

Joran: Be patient. Falling in love is like lightning striking, you have to be in the right place at the right time, and you’ll never see it unless you leave the house.

Some of my favorite quotes from the other couples…

“Ivan would move heaven and earth for myself and our beautiful daughters. I knew that he would be an amazing husband and father but he continues to outdo himself.” – Kelly Peña

“I have to go back to the point about communication, so important.  Of course this is easy for us, we’re best friends.” – Tanya Sharkey

“I can count on her for anything and that she makes me want to be a better man.” – Ivan Peña

“Make sure that the other person is looking for the same exact things in a relationship as you.” – Jonathan Mercado

“It is impossible to be anywhere near Denise and not feel wonderful — about everything.  I love how well this is experienced by everyone who encounters her.  She lives in love and finds it everywhere.” – Kevin O’Dunn

“I get incredibly happy when he brings me home a movie to watch. He’ll take the time to try to find one that he thinks I will really like, even if he knows that he will probably fall asleep to it. This, to me, speaks volumes about how much he still loves me.” – Dale Ocasio

“The other day I glanced at the little pottery dish she brought up to use as a soap dish in our bathroom and I thought “I like her style,” (which translates, roughly speaking, into “she’s the one for me”.)” – Marty Solomon

“The thing that makes me incredibly happy is the fact that he is truly my best friend. Absolutely and without question. I can be my silliest with him and vice versa and we have so much fun together.” – Rebeca Harrell

“My secret to keeping a happy, healthy relationship is to always look for and remember those things that you love about each other. Grow with each other. Learn new stuff together. Play!! Have fun regardless of your circumstances. And … LAUGH!!” – Lisa Kiebzak

Mini-Meals – Healthy Back-to-School Lunches

Alchemy Nirvana Oppelt, Age 5

In just over a week my baby girl starts kindergarten! Everyone said this day would come in a blink of an eye, and I have to say, it’s true. At five years old, I still fuss over her diet just as much as I did when I was making frozen cubes of organic baby food from scratch. Like any other kid, my daughter Alchemy loves her sweets and treats and it is a constant task to keep her diet balanced and mostly wholesome. As back to school time quickly approaches, I figured now would be the perfect time to share some of our favorite pack-n-go meals and snacks.

Cheese in a Blanket –Tasty protein power! Ingredients: Horizon Organic Mozzarella Cheese Stick and Applegate Farms Roasted Turkey. Directions: Unwrap the cheese stick and roll it up in a slice of turkey. Be sure to keep this nice and cold with and ice pack when packing lunches to-go.

Egg Treat – Simply, a hard-boiled egg cut in half sprinkled with Himalayan Pink Sea Salt.

Chickie Salad Cup – Alchemy likes her “Chickie Salad” in a little container rather than on bread. Ingredients: Diced or shredded cooked organic chicken, Spectrum Organic Mayonnaise, mustard, chopped celery, Himalayan Pink Sea Salt. Directions: Mix it, put in a BPA free container, pack with a cold pack and go!

Carrots & Hummus – In case you haven’t tried it, carrots and hummus rock! A perfect pint sized, powerhouse snack. You can make your own hummus or get some from the health food store. Find a small container for the hummus and pack some baby carrots for dipping.

Chilly Burritos – I usually serve this for lunch the day after we have taco night at home. I make them right after dinner so that I’m ahead of the game in the morning. Ingredients: Ezekiel Sprouted Grain Tortilla, Amy’s Organic Refried Beans, Plainville Farms Organic Ground Turkey – browned and cooked with taco seasoning (if we have any left over from taco night), organic shredded cheese, organic sour cream, sliced avocado or guacamole, clover sprouts. (This is all Alchemy likes on hers at the moment, you could of course add salsa, tomatoes, cucumber olives, etc.) Directions: wrap, refrigerate overnight and in the morning, throw it in the lunch box!

Yummy Yogurt Parfait – You could use any kind of fruit, fresh or frozen. The reason I use frozen cherries a lot is that they keep the yogurt cold and as they thaw they make it a pretty shade of pink, naturally! Ingredients: Stoneyfield Organic Plain Yogurt, frozen cherries or other fruit, granola, sliced almonds, and pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Directions: In a BPA free plastic container put frozen fruit on the bottom, top with yogurt, then a little granola, sliced almonds, and pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

Ants on a Log – An all time classic! Ingredients: celery, MaraNatha Organic No-Stir Peanut Butter, and organic raisins. Directions: Wash and cut the celery, fill with peanut butter and line the raisins up on top.

Silly Snack Mix – A life-saver, emergency snack for those moments when waiting just won’t do. No refrigeration necessary, so keep a bag in the car! Ingredients: Dried fruit of choice (raisins, cherries, dates, apples, papaya), nuts (raw cashews, raw almonds, raw walnuts, peanuts, pistachios), just a few candy coated sunflower seeds (from the bulk food section at the health food store), and Annie’s Homemade Organic Cheddar Bunnies. Directions: Put it in a baggie & go!

Mini Quinoa-Banana Muffins – A sweet treat that blows away traditional recipes on the “good for you” scale. The recipe was created by Alchemy’s Graypa, it’s a wholesome gluten-free bread that makes a great loaf or mini-muffins, if you choose for your little munchkin!

Yummy Balls! – Makes you smile just saying it, doesn’t it! Another one that I put in the “much better for you than the average treat” category. But, you could over-do it on these, easily! Just don’t sit down with a tray of them in front of the T.V. (I’m talking to you Mom’s out there).

Ingredients: 1/2 cup raw walnuts, 1/2 cup pitted dates (soak for an hour or so before hand), 1/2 cup carob powder, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/2 cup organic raw almond butter, 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract, ½ tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp fine Pink Himalayan Sea Salt, 1/2 cup raw whole Almonds, 2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut.

Directions: Place the walnuts in a food processor and process until coarsely ground. Add the soaked dates and pulse until well combined with the nuts. Add the carob powder, cinnamon, syrup, almond butter, vanilla, and salt. Process until the mixture is thick and smooth. Add the almonds, and pulse a few times until combined; you want them to remain in crunchy chunks. Form the mixture into golf-ball-sized balls in your hands. Roll in the coconut (or cocoa powder). Place in a sealed container in the freezer until hardened. Keep in the freezer until ready to eat or pack. Enjoy!

Momma Jen’s Guidelines for Raising a Healthy Kid – My motherly conscience could not rest if I did not share a few more things that I believe keep kids healthy and thriving in this fast-paced world.

  • Pack water in your child’s lunch and encourage drinking water frequently.
  • Use BPA free containers for packing food and water to-go.
  • When packing lunches, keep meats, dairy and egg fresh by packing them with ice packs. Very important!
  • Buy local and/or organic whenever possible, especially meats, dairy and eggs. Find a co-op to help reduce cost. We shop at Fresh Family Goods and save a bundle on our food bill.
  • Don’t use microwaves. Just get rid of it, if you still have one.
  • Educate your children about healthy eating, tell them about how carrots help you see, meat makes you strong, milk gives you good bones, etc. Kids love this stuff.
  • Don’t force your kids to eat but keep putting healthy food in front of them. If they are hungry, they will eat it.
  • Cook with your children. Tell them what you are doing in the kitchen and let them help. Even if it is a little messy.
  • Eat dinner together at dinner table. Let the kids set the table.
  • Stay active – have dance parties, play, go outside, include the kids in your exercise routine, do yoga together, teach them how to take deep breaths, shake it off, laugh, be silly, and give them lots of hugs and kisses.
  • Every now and then, go out for ice cream! It’s all about the balance.

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