Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Letter 2013: The thoughtful part.

Here's the thoughtful part of our annual Christmas letter. Usually I try to do this strange meshing of the newsyness of our year and the philosophical types of thoughts that inevitably run through my head at this time of year, and I was too tired, because man, I stayed up until 4:30AM wrapping presents with my dear friend Josie, and that is too hard for my brain. So here's the thoughtful part of the letter, minus the newsy part. You can read the newsy part if you're lucky enough to be on my Christmas email list or actual mail list. :)

Christmas Letter 2013

Brandon got me a new smartphone for my birthday, and I'm still trying to decipher it. Understanding electronics these days is a bit like decoding the Rosetta stone. You hold a device in your hands and try to find something familiar in the icons and app buttons in front of you. Pretty soon you feel like a cryptographer in the wee candlelit hours of the night, experiencing tiny triumphs as you discover that the little triangle plays voice messages and the little clock reveals your recent calls.

This past year has been one immersed in imagery and symbolism for me as my photography business, Slow Lane Images, has decided to keep me very busy. For one who has, since a young age, been very used to communicating with words in print, it is fascinating to me to work instead almost entirely in pictures. Last year, I stayed up until the wee hours of the night writing in my blog, and this year, it was endless clicking and zooming in on Photoshop documents that created the blue late night glow from my windows.

I can understand a bit of what the software developers must experience as they develop their new language of pictographs. For them, a series of sentences must be distilled into one simple shape. In portraits, the placement of a hand can imply great love or subtle tension, and I must be careful to decide what each image wants to say. It is strange to put so much thought and time into something that represents 1/320th of a second, but I have come to love this challenge to attempt to accurately represent so much within the confines of a simple rectangle.

There is, however an uneasiness that is ever present in working in this way. It is easy to begin to see everything as simply packaged and to forget the depth of meaning that brought us to this place. A scroll past a beautiful photograph, a +1 or "like," and soon it is forgotten. A simple click of a picture calls my friend, and I don't even have to know her phone number. Here is where it seems very important to be countercultural. Instead of a scroll through Facebook, how about a conversation with my husband? Instead of a Youtube documentary, how about some rich Wendell Berry poetry? These advances are earth shattering. They are wonderful and fearful all at the same time. We won't need book burnings like in Fahrenheit 451, no. We have the internet. I say these things mostly to myself, but also out loud too, because I think they are important to remember.

And now, at Christmas time, I want to remember that baby Jesus is more than a symbol. He is not just the cute and roly-poly Little People toy in our nativity set, not a myth created to represent purity and redemption. I want to remember that Jesus is the small child, but also that he is also the Teacher, the Friend, and Savior to whom, in spite of all my doubts, I cry out directly to in my darkest times. He is more than an icon, and He loves with a love that is wider than I can understand or portray. This…to remember the mystery and wonder behind all the things that have become maybe just a little too simple…to remember to cherish real conversation and complex texts and the story behind a work of art. This is my challenge for the year ahead.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What our family gets out of the Affordable Care Act

Today I thought I'd try to check out other plans on because I talked to my current health insurance company and found the new plan I'll have to go on to be unsatisfactory.  They told me I might want to check out the government website to see if something else might work better for us.  The pictures above are screen shots of what I got when i tried to log into their website.

 I called my insurance plan and asked for comparisons between the new government mandated plan and the old plan I had.  I had and HSA Catastrophic 4000 plan with Group Health at $691 per month and will be required to buy the ACA Bronze plan at $802.58 per month.  My family deductible under the new plan has doubled from $4000 to $8000.  My out of pocket limit has gone up from 12,100 to 12,700.  We have 5 children.

For the additional $111.58 per month, and $4000 per year in deductible and $600 in out of pocket expenses, here's what I get.

1) Maternity care.  No more babies here.  Sorry.  
2)  Prescription drug coverage...yay!  Wait, no, only after you pay the $8000 deductible
3) Annual Pediatric dental exams.--this is actually nice.  We pay for a separate plan through Washington Dental Service, which means we can bill this plan for the annual exams and "save" a little bit....if they cover our dentist.
4) Annual Pediatric vision exams and one pair of glasses....this is very awesome because I have one kid who wears glasses.  Not sure if it covers contacts.  We can transfer that cost over to what we pay for this plan.  

That's about it.  What are you getting out of the ACA?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Microchip Jungle

Through the strange phenomenon of noise canceling headphones, earbuds and, I sometimes find myself in a house filled with both people and silence at the same time.  I wrote this after reading some Wendell Berry poetry from his Timbered Choir seried of poems.   He says at the beginning of the book that it is good to read the series of poems in a quiet place, like the woods where they were written.  And yet tonight I stood in the center of my kitchen surrounded, but very much in solitude.


I am
immersed in
the quiet noise,
the microchip

My cabinets,
the trees.
kitchen view,
my escape.

yet there...

at the center
of my hearth.

I find
stillness of
a beginning of

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Glass gems.

My friend began our visit together today by reading me this poem.  I think any visit with a friend that is prefaced by poetry reading is bound to be good.  And it was.


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

This poem...I had never heard it before, and yet it resonated with the chord my heart was playing just last night.  I could feel the despair setting in...had I released my children into this world too soon?  We home-schooled exclusively for nine years.  Last year, the two eldest children went off to middle school, and this year our ten year old is in a local elementary school.  Just the youngest girls remain at home for the day with me.

The past two years have been punctuated by times of deep mourning for the times we had all together.  It feels like my family is split into tiny pieces throughout the day.  Sometimes my heart can't bear the feeling of being in so many places at once and I crumble inside.  

And yet this time has also been permeated by a deep sense of peace; an understanding that only comes from resting in the truth that my children are cared for and loved... not just by me, but by God, family, friends, neighbors, teachers, 4H leaders, sunday school teachers, mentors.  The ripples just keep going wider and wider.  I was not given these children to clutch tightly to me like a baby's blanket.  I am not meant to hide them in a fortress or stubbornly cling to my need to provide, even as I am depleted and weary. 

Have I prepared them well enough?  Can one ever really be prepared enough for anything?   Maybe equipped is a better word.  A bird does not prepare himself for the day ahead, worrying about where he will find this worm or whether the raindrops will hinder his flight.  Instead, he is diligent as he searches for food he does not doubt he will find and is confident in the downy fluff that keeps him dry and warm.  This kind of confidence is what I have seen growing inside my children as they move out of the comforts of our home into the unpredictability of life.  

And so today, as I sat with my friends, drank coffee, talked about children and homeschooling and our youth and the state of the world in general... as I stood with them and husked the most beautiful corn I have ever seen...I rested.

I rested in the same grace that Wendell Berry must have felt as he lay there near the water.  We marveled together at each individual kernel of this rare heirloom variety of corn known as "Glass Gem."  We noticed the spot on each kernel where the silk had been.  It reminded me a bit of a child's belly button!  

There were ears as blue as a pair of Levi jeans, and others more beautiful than the most brilliant rocks found along the shores of the Sound.  Each  kernel glowed with a potential and hope that inspired thankfulness in my heart for a Creator who cares enough to make light and color, texture and taste, and a capacity within us all to love all of it.  

And I knew that my heart might not feel any different.  It will occasionally feel defeated, lonely and despairing as life changes around me and my children walk their various paths in life.  More often though, it will beat steadily within as I move forward in the faith it takes daily to get out of bed and do the day's duties.  And sometimes it will occasionally skip a beat with the kind of joy, wonder and anticipation a beautiful little glass gem seed can inspire as I see them reach the potential I saw gleaming in their eyes as toddlers.  This means that I can sit beside my husband, nestling my head into his shoulder at the end of each day and have true peace.  

Saturday, June 15, 2013


It had been thirteen years since my last trip to see family in Indiana. At that time, I had only one child.  Four children later, and with my grandpa around 87 years old, I realized it was about time I got out there and reconnected with everyone.  Thankfully, my parents were going too, so we ended up having two family reunions.

We stayed with my grandpa and his sweet wife, Fran.  They were so gracious to let us invade their peaceful lives with our intensely chaotic visiting and touring around.  That couch grandpa and Dad are sitting on was my bed!  It was an emotional time for me too, because my grandma had passed away suddenly just a few months after my last visit.

To see my grandpa's face... to hear his voice as he talked with my dad about just anything that came to their minds...this made my heart very happy, and the sadness at grandma's absence lessened some.  I had been so frantic to soak up every bit of family history that was in that place, but soon I realized that I simply needed to relax in the joyful reality of this father and son reunion I was witnessing.

It was in this moment that I remembered the deep blessing it is to have a dad and grandpa who have a special connection with one another, and in turn with me.  Thank you dad and grandpa, and happy father's day.  Your example of faithfulness to your families reminds me in turn of God's faithfulness to all of us.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Small joys

This is one of the small joys in life: sitting in the passenger seat.  My husband was driving us into town on a road I always drive, but this time I finally was able to take a picture of the cottonwood tree I always admire.  It is beautiful without leaves in the winter, and when the salmon are running we have seen countless eagles in it.  I have seen its silhouette against many sunsets.  Yesterday it was just these beautiful clouds that caught my attention.  Right now, the fluffy cotton like seeds of the cottonwood are blowing everywhere, and it's like snow in spring time and every place around them looks a little bit magical.  Of course, if you're a child, you must gather big handfuls up, take a deep breath send them back into the breeze.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The biggest bigleaf maple

We recently visited a farm that happens to be the home of the biggest Bigleaf Maple in the nation.  This tree is 433 feet in circumference, 90 feet high and has a crown spread of 109 feet and is completely impressive.  I am thankful that we got to see it in all its living glory.

My little lamb visiting the lambs at the farm.
For scale.  That's my 9 year old on the right.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What I love

This is how I want to remind myself to be: looking up and all around me.  It's easy to forget to do this simple act of noticing, but it is so renewing.

Spring:  it's a time of frenzied work and preparations.  Everything ends and begins all at once; responsibilities and opportunities overlap.  School is drawing to a close, baby animals are being born, baby plants are growing deep roots, weeds are rising exponentially taller each day.

Always, at this time of year, I find that the things I love can begin to wear me thin.  There are so many commitments, experiments, people and experiences to immerse ourselves in, that I find myself frozen in the midst of them, standing immobile next to a several-foot-high pile of laundry.

How can I say no to the opportunity to have small animals for my children to care for, making them friendly through twice daily bottle feeding?  Can the garden go unplanted?  And what of the budding photography business?  It is not easy to turn people away when photography is so dear to my heart.

And so dinner is ready at 8:30 and I pray with friends in the midst of a living room sprinkled with dog hair.  Is your life like this?  I know I am not alone, and that is what helps me to persevere.  I know in one friend's house, there is an artist-child like mine, who leaves trails of paper and un-capped markers in her wake.  In a different friend's home, there is another preteen boy saying the same words that make a mom's heart tired.  Still another friend has 4 more baby goats to feed than I and another has a garden that beckons to her as she walks away to do other work that must be done.

I cannot see how to remove myself from many of the commitments I have made, though I will remind myself from time to time, that indeed, I am not "every woman."  Thus, I do not need to do every thing.  Instead of being stuck in the icy world of self doubt and pity though, I am learning to be sure to notice the things around me that I love.  These are things that are intertwined with my busy life and commitments, and are reminders that I do not have to be fully exhausted and tired.  There are moments I can linger in for just a bit, taking a bit of time to treasure them and to be renewed and thankful.

I am sure you have a running list like this, though you may not realize it.  It is my intention to notice not just things that would make beautiful photography, but moments, and the way things are at the very moment I am in.

I love....
... the way tiny droplets of water gather evenly all around the edges of a baby cabbage plant in the cool of the dusk. raindrops puddle on the leaf of a lupine.
...the sound of geese flying by in the evening
...milking a goat by the light of the stars
...the way clouds pile up higher than the mountains they sit upon
...seeing my children peacefully playing together
...having my oldest kids sit next to me just to talk
...being given flowers all day long
...the way a lupine flower curves when resting in a plastic cup
...smelling lilacs in gardens everywhere and especially in my kitchen
...finding worms busily working as i plant a pepper plant
...the way a baby goat will use a person as their own personal playground the crescent moon shines through the willow and cottonwood trees at dusk
...the feeling of the breeze sweeping around the corner of my house, trying to push my hat off
...the swing of my 7 year old's pony tail as she walks a horse into a barn
...finding my son has climbed to the top of an outbuilding or the middle of a tree
...watching my daughter sit on the swing with a baby goat
...the click of the shutter of a camera
...the green glow of a light on a tomato plant start at ten o clock at night husband's dimples and five o'clock shadow
...holding a tiny hand in mine when walking down the steps to the garden
...the glow of the sunset on the clouds to the east
...the cottonwood tree on the way into town that I always think I should take a picture of and which will probably cause me to crash one day if I am not careful.

These are some things I love today.

What things do you love?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

My mom and my niece, last year at my brother's wedding.
Happy Mother's day to my most wonderful mother, and to every mother, mommy to be, mother bereaved, every mother figure, every adoptive momma, every stepmother, every mother in law, every woman who hopes to be a mother, and every girl who will grow to be one.  This is a job that grows us up, stretches every part of us; physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  It is the best and most beautiful thing I have done, and I am thankful for the children who call me mom.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The significance of a life

I love this place.  It is near the water and there are hills.  When I lived nearby, I ran here weekly.  It was the place that I could always count on for God to show me something new.  Sometimes it was a thought or idea.  Other times it was some beautiful bit of nature, like a great blue heron or an eagle.  Still other times it was an overwhelming sense of calm and peace.

Today, I attended a women's retreat here as I do every year, and did my annual run on the dike.  I had read in the Bible the story of Jacob's dream when he dreamed of a stairway to heaven.  God told him that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed, and that He would always watch over Jacob.  Jacob awakes and declares that this spot is holy and is the very gate of heaven.  He sets up a pillar in that spot to show the sacredness of that place.

Genesis 28:20, "Then Jacob made a vow, saying "if God will be with me and will watch over me on the journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house and of all that you give me, I will give you a tenth."

I'm not great at analyzing the Bible, but what struck me here is that Jacob is not only thankful and acknowledges the blessing that is coming to him; he is also honoring God in obedience by giving back to God 1/10th of what He has entrusted Jacob with.  Jacob erects a pillar, like an outward sign of recognition of the holiness of God and the blessings He gives.

I began to think about my life.  If I am to set up a pillar in my own life, thanking God for the places He has met me and my family, what might it look like?  Would it be a prayer out loud? Or outright exclamation at the beauty of God's creation?  Maybe the pillar can look like humbleness and a hand that points toward God and all He has done.  I can give 1/10th of my monetary earnings, but what else can I give?  It sounds so small.  Why should I be allowed to keep 9/10ths all to myself?  What will I do with that remainder?

 What places are like pillars in your life?  Where are your gateways to heaven and God's great blessing and presence in your life?

My run on the dike mingled with my thoughts about Jacob's story.  I sat out on the roots of this massive, fallen tree and thought of it just as that...a tree that still had much life to give, and I was inspired to write.  So I scribbled out a poem about these thoughts, and I share it below.


Do you see this
this log
this tree?

When a human is dead
it is a body buried in the ground, rotten and gone,
soul with Christ,
a rock as a memory.

When a tree dies,
and remains,
somehow that shell
It points to the majesty
and heights it once

It feeds and
new creatures.
Just as when my
soul moves on
my words
my deeds
this pillar of
my life
will lead eyes somewhere.

Was my life a shelter,
a home,
a way of nourishing?
Did it
say Yes!
there is more?
There is an
infinite God
who cares about
ants and
and small
very loud birds.

Did this pillar stand
humbly in the
holy place
of God's creation
in gratitude
Holding very dearly
the responsibility
that comes
when one
has been
trusted with

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How I make White and Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

Whole wheat bread, ready to go into the oven.  I said I'd never use Instagram pics on my blog, but I just don't have time at this time of year to do anything else!

People have asked how I make sourdough bread, specifically how I make a wheat version of Northwest Sourdough's  basic white sourdough recipe.  I have simplified it for my distracted brain and incorporated some of what I learned when I used the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day method of baking.  I use the Northwest Sourdough recipe, and for wheat bread I change the amount of flour to about 6 cups. I use only white flour for my starter because I don't know how wheat will do.

I keep my starter in my refrigerator in a loosely covered container.  I didn't feed or use it for several months over the winter and when I wanted to use it this spring it was a bit lazy, but after feeding one time, it worked beautifully.  Ask around to see if anyone you know has a starter.  Otherwise, you can buy some at the Northwest sourdough website, or you can make your own.

A finished whole wheat loaf of sourdough bread.

So here's how I make: White or Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

I activate the starter the night before by adding flour and water each in double the amount of the starter.  I usually activate 1 cup of starter so I have extra.  This means that I always mix together 1 cup starter with 2 c. water and 2 c. white flour.  It will immediately get bubbly.  Cover it and let it do its thing overnight.  Every time I bake, I store what is left after I use my activated starter back in the fridge.

The next day, mix 2 c. activated starter, 1 3/4 water, 1 T oil and 7 c. (or 6c.  if you are doing whole wheat) flour together.  Put it in your mixer bowl, with the kneading hook, cover with a damp cloth and go away. Walk by it 2 or three times in the day, uncover and run the mixer a few rounds.  At the 2nd mixing, I add in about 1-2 tsp. salt.

 *** Today I actually let my starter get all foamy and didn't use it until about 1:30 or something, and made a delicious pair of loaves late this evening.  They were white flour loaves. This is just to say that you don't have to throw your dough or starter out if you forget it.  Try it out and see what happens!

After the third rising, dust your cutting board with cornmeal.  Shape the dough into boule loaves. (These are the round or oval loaves, shaped by tucking the dough underneath until it looks all cute and puffy)  Dust with flour and set on the cutting board.  Cover with some sort of vapor barrier (plastic, a pan, whatever) Let them rise a bit.  Northwest Sourdough talks about how to tell if they've risen enough.

Heat the oven to 450 with your baking stones and broiler pan in there.  Uncover the loaves.  Slice the top of the loaves 4 times, the center cut being deepest so the loaves don't get gooey inside.

Open the oven.  Plop the loaves on the baking stones.  Grab about a cup of water, pour it quickly into your hot broiler pan, which is on the rack below the baking stones.  It will steam the loaves.    Close the oven door quickly.  Bake the loaves 20-25 minutes at 450, then turn down to 425 and bake about 15-20 minutes more.  The bread should be golden brown and sound hollow when you tap it.  I am not a bread expert, so I sometimes turn the bread upside down and cut into the center to see that it has cooked all the way through!

Eat it when it's hot and really hard to slice, but especially delicious.

The End.

Some white sourdough that I let rise maybe a bit too much, but it was so crusty and light and good, I think it was ok.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Make Felt Acorns!

My kids were eager to do some weeding for grandma and grandpa so they could earn a few dollars.  They happened to be weeding beneath an oak tree, which is not a common tree around here.  I noticed little acorn caps sprinkled around and collected as many as I could find.  It's just the right season I guess, because the seeds have disconnected from them or been munched on by one critter or another.  If you know of any oak trees in your area, just try browsing around beneath them to see what you might find!

These little acorns are easy to make.  You clean and dry the little caps on a windowsill for a bit.  Then you card some colored wool.  Roll it into a tight little ball/cylinder type shape, and needle felt away.  The size of your cap will determine the size of your little ball. I felted the top rather flat and a bit rounded on the edges so it could be stuffed inside the cap.

Then needle felt the bottom into a little point just like the real acorns have.  Fire up the hot glue gun and put about a pea or raisin sized blob of glue in there, depending on the size of the cap.  Voila!   You've got an aesthetically pleasing acorn that a squirrel will go nuts over!

She thought it was a better plan to fill the acorn caps with water like a tiny cup.

Yes, these are little acorns on an oak table.  At least I think it's oak.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Faith's Colt

The day before her due date, Faith, my in-laws' mare foaled.  She had lots of people watching over her on a web-casted video feed, and thank goodness!  My sister in law was the one who noticed she was laying down and acting more peculiar than normal.  Thank goodness our kids happened to be staying over at grandma and grandpa's, because my husband and I were able to zoom down when we saw the camera feed, and everyone, kids included, was able to watch the miracle of birth.  Faith is a very big quarter horse and was bred to and even larger overo stallion, but the colt is a solid sorrel colt.  This isn't the first choice for people breeding horses, but he's beautiful.  They'll get a second chance, as faith will be bred back to the same stallion within the week.  The colt is tall...his back way past my father in law's waist.  I remember another foal born on their farm several years ago was so teeny, she could run right under her mommy.  Not so with this boy!

Here are pictures of his first few moments.  I didn't want to get too much in momma's face, so the pictures aren't prime photography, but they convey the beauty and emotion of the moment, I think.

First moments
Laying down and laboring.
Just born
Checking to see what sort of little guy this is... a solid sorrel colt.

Learning to stand


Mom supported him as he tried to stand.

Petting the soft new baby.