Thursday, July 31, 2014

July Reads

Birch Bay Sunset, rainbow hues

July has been hot out here. When you live in the top story of an apartment building, and there's no air conditioning, it can feel just over the needle of uncomfortably warm when the day is above 76 degrees. We've kept blinds shut, windows open, and a fan continually blowing as it's perched in our living room window well.
Just about the only thing I feel like doing after a long day is laying on the couch straight in the fan's air circulation path, and read a good book. I had some unique picks this month.

*#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso This book was just plain fun to read. Amoruso developed the iconic ebay store NastyGal way back when vintage selling on ebay was a thing. Now she's a millionaire with a kicking website that she started from scratch and didn't owe a dime to anyone else for. It's a great 200 pager with stories on dumpster diving for daily food, entrepreneurship tips, and being the backwards kid that no one thought would amount to anything. She's kicking ass and taking names now, all before 30.

*Atlas Girl by Emily Weirenga I don't know what attracted me to read Emily's book, but it's one of my favorites of the year. I was always trying to find bits and pieces of time to sit on the couch and dive in. I rarely read more than 25 pages or so at a time (I fall asleep!), but on the fourth day of borrowing this book I turned over 75 pages in one sitting and enjoyed every bit. She writes beautifully and the story is very touching. She learns to forgive her family for never loving her by taking care of her mother, who is relearning life due to a brain tumor. This book is full of lazy-river metaphors and piercing cloud sun-ray language. I also loved that every chapter begins with a great quote. I'm looking forward to the second part of the memoir.

*Dorothy Day, A Radical Devotion by Robert Coles (ongoing) I listened to an interview of Robert Coles done by Krista Tippett back on NPR a few months ago, and I was really interested in learning more about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker. Her life sounded interesting. I found out a friend of mine had the very same book the two were talking about over the radio, and she let me borrow it. I sometimes find biographies tedious and hard to chug along with, but at only 160 pages, I can handle 10 or 15 pages a day and slowly work my way through the lesson I started out to learn.

*Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo I've already done a nice long review of this YA fiction book on my book review site, The Well Read Sleepyhead, but can I just say that Kate DiCamillo might be one of my favorite YA authors of all time? I'm now reading aloud The Tale of Despereux to the kids, after loving Flora, and I LOVE IT. I didn't preview it, but I know there's a movie on netflix, and when I found out it was from her book I pounced on the opportunity to read it to the kids. Update next month, but so far, it's awesome.

*Pursue the Intentional Life by Jean Fleming I read this book just after the study ended. I like to follow Incourage's book clubs because the hosts do an author interview video with every section of chapters. I like to hear the author's feedback, and the interviewers do a great job. Of all the books I've followed along with, though, I hate to say I liked this the least. The one copy at the library was on hold the entire time the sessions were going on, which could have rained on my parade, but after the last book, this one felt like a B list, even though it had some great thoughts to it. This book is about making the 'second half of your life' just as intentional for Christ as your first, but I didn't find it particularly beautiful in language or especially mind-blowing. It was practical and to the point.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Small Debt Victories and the Blessing of a New (Used) Car

Our new (used) Toyota

Debt. It's become an ugly word to me. A word that is weighted with dislike. Heavy with constriction. Pregnant with owing. You get my drift. 

We started out with our big move across 1800 miles with minimal debt (around $5K in student loans). We should have been hard balling those numbers for the previous 2 years or so, but instead we just lived really comfortably and didn't think about it much. We didn't have a ton of material possessions, but we enjoyed ourselves, once a week Chipotle, a new dress here and there. It adds up. We weren't practicing penny pinchers, mostly because we had done it for so long before and we needed a break, or a reward, or just an extended vacation from trying. But that's not how debt works. If you don't snowball it, it will snowball you. 

That's what happened to us this past 18 months, as we needed a second vehicle, a commuter vehicle that would be great on gas. We chose to buy a new Honda motorcycle, getting 50 (or 60?) mpg, only spending roughly $40 a month on gas. With the payment and gas, and insurance, it was cheaper than our older car that we already owned back in Nebraska, if we would have kept it and commuted with what we owned. The gas difference was that much! More debt. The right choice for us at the time, but more debt.

Fast forward to loosing hundreds of dollars of income per month (at the worst, around $550/month) with a poor exchange rate, and unexpected taxes. More debt. The only choice, that time, since all our cash savings were spent on a very broken car. More debt. Ugly, annoying, debt.

A few months later, that never-really-fixed car blew a rod through the engine. It was toast. Sold it to our mechanic for $300 for scrap metal. Our family of four, now without a car, only with a motorcycle for, at the most, two. Here's where the blessing comes in. Just when you least expect it.

Thankfully, we are committed to get rid of debt, live simply, and live our life the way we want, without owing anything to anyone, aside from a someday-but-very-(very)-far-off-future mortgage. We were able to save another #1 babystep emergency fund of $1000, and saving enough money for our upcoming move into Canada. The gratitude, the blessing, comes in little whispers, and you have to practice recognizing them:

A basic model with only one family as owners. 

A car that gets better gas mileage than what our other car got.

A car that is just big enough for all 4 of us, our camping gear, and a middle seat for a someday-soon dog.

A car that is cheap to fix, with a trustworthy name that lasts for decades.

A car that we could pay with cash for. 

We have to celebrate the victories. Where is the victory in this story? We were able to find a car that has been a one- family car, with minimal body damage (a scrape here and there), and reliable for over a decade. Paying cash, not being discouraged that we'd have to get into more debt with a car loan, that we don't want. The family blessed us as we drove off. They were so kind, and the mother, whose car it was originally before passing it down to her son, and her son to us, said, "I am so glad it is going to a young family! It will take care of you!
It's a victory because even if this car only lasts two years, $800 will have been a great investment for a working car, that will take us to the grocery store, the post office, the date out, and back home again. Maybe these small gratitudes seem like dandelion seeds blowing in the wind-- barely detectable, yet when the rains come, they stick where they've landed, and they're tough nuts to dig out of the land they've chosen... and we want to land in gratitude in hard times and be stubborn as weeds who won't give up their roots. 
It's a practice. It's a blessing to practice. It's a blessing. It's victory.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Above-the-Head Humor + Animal Name Puns

Saturday morning cartoons meets post-modern fairy tale humor in this poetic picture book, Zany Zoo by William Wise. Illustrated by the artist behind the Tacky series, you and your kids will enjoy this crazy romp through the animal kingdom on my children's literature review site, The Well Read Sleepyhead. See you over there!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

5 {Foodie} Instagrammers That I Love


After years of putting it off, I've finally become a member of the instagram community. I must say, you people are beautiful photographers. It's amazing what a quick capture and a few great filters can do nowadays. I'm a really visual person and seeing lovely arrangements, crisp landscapes, and different color palette-mixing is quite an inspiration. I'm especially in love with all the foodie photos on instagram.

I rarely have a cookbook in my cupboard that does not boast a picture-a-page, and it's for good reason. If I see it and it looks healthy and delicious, I want to make it, simple as that. Instagram is a great place for me to follow some amazing cooks, and although I follow most of these cooks and bakers on their blogs, I thought I'd share a quick list of my favorite {foodie} instagrammers, so you might take a peek, too, and find a new idea for dinner.

*Aimee Bourque from has by far the best spreads. Her photo usually captures the entire meal, in a lovely arrangement. She cooks, grills, bakes, and eats out, and I like all those options, too. Her blog is one of my favorites. This picture (up top) was so fetching to me I made the meal that week and it was fantastic. It fed us for two days, and we felt great.

*Joy the Baker has her own website, a number of cookbooks, and even hosts a podcasting channel. What I love about her instagram photos is that they are mostly all muted in tone, and hushed in color. They appear to be living in this perpetual Sunday-morning foggy realm of cozy, cats, and sweets.

*Robinette Farms are located near my hometown of Lincoln, NE. I enjoyed their delicious organic produce every summer from the farmer's markets my town had to offer. I could kick myself I didn't sign up for their CSA before choosing a different one (long story). Their photos are deliciously colorful and deep in the dirt. I was able to hear Chole, one of the owners, speak at an event once and have had much respect for the work they do since then. #EatLocal

*CannelleVanille is my all-time favorite food stylist. It's actually a job. Not only that, but she travels the world while hosting food styling, preparing, and photographing workshops. Swoon! She has recently relocated to my neck of the woods and I'd probably act like a 50s girl meeting a Beatle if I ever got the chance. Her photos are quiet, with usually one pop of color. Her food is simple, yet unique and elegant, and the best part? She's completely gluten-free.

*TastyYummies is a new face to me, having never read her blog before I saw her on instagram. Her photos cover texture and fullness, with the food nearly bursting through the square boundaries of each photo. There are lots of garden produce hauls, stuffed-large meal spreads, and super color 'one-pots'.

Who do you follow on instagram that gets your stomach growling? Leave their handle in the comments for me!

Monday, July 21, 2014

10 Summer {Budget} Date Night Ideas

Believe it or not, but there is no filter on this Birch Bay sunset photo, just the black rubber phone case that got in the way. It's almost impossible to capture the water -sunsets here, but this photo comes pretty dang close.

The thing about not having a lot of money to spend on extras, is that it makes you incredibly resourceful. Because you have boundaries, you have to create your own environment within those boundaries, and it's a well known fact that boundaries create geyser-like surges of creativity.

For example, you should see the gourmet meals that come from my kitchen when I have very, very little in the fridge. After having kids, my few hours of time by myself (naps, then quiet time, or early morning hours) is the time where my mind is clear, I can get a lot done, and I put the pedal to the medal with the projects I want to work on. It's as if the constraints forced me to narrow my focus.

When we moved here 18 months ago, without close family nearby (our regular grandma babysitters a good 27 hours-drive away), we had to get pretty. dang. creative. Sometimes, our dates look like putting the kids to bed 30 minutes early, and the other making something delicious in the kitchen, and eating our meal in relative silence. Sometimes, it means telling our kids to go and play at the beach, while we sit on the coastline and just talk without interruption.  The date ideas from this list, though, is actually going out, doing something different, and not putting your own kids to bed (that's really one of the most important pieces of the date pie if you have children). Here are a few ideas we've found for great summer dates that don't include shelling out a $50.

*Google your town's free summer music list, pack a chair and a cooling snack like fruit salad, cheese, and bread, and enjoy. Here's one of mine.

*What did you play in high school or college? Grab that ball (or racket) and plan to play a match. You'll get exercise and you'll feel about 10 years younger. You might not smell like fuzzy peach perfume afterward, but playing is good for you.

*Take a walk around a lake, a park, or a nature preserve you've never been to before. Bring birdseed or bread crumbs. You'd be surprised at the wildlife that will visit you with a quiet demeanor, a bag of food, and a little patience.

*Find a town that hosts a "movie on the green". Look near your city's local universities, or an area that is a community gathering space, like a farmer's market area. In both the cities we've lived in, these have been available in the summer. They are usually free or very cheap! Bring a blanket.

*Go swimming. Whatever. Don't believe the lie that once you're out of college you can never wear a swimsuit again. It's SO HOT OUT. Let that be driving force behind you getting into that lake, ocean, pool, or fountain. You'll feel better when you're done, and remember....playing is good for you.

*Subscribe to groupon, living social, and other flash sites and keep an eye out for 1/2 price date/restaurant/getaway ideas. Why pay full price when you could literally pay 50% less (or more!) with a deal, just by being patient and finding something that sounds fun? Always wanted to try paintball? Want to hit a movie when it's just too hot out? Don't pay full price. Search in advance and take advantage when the deal hits. We've found many fun family outings or dates with this method.
Extra tip: subscribe to big cities (Houston, Seattle, LA, etc.) and get awesome deals on chain stores that you can use in your town. 

*Pack a blanket, ice water, and the best dang sandwhiches and sides you can find. Picnics are still cool and an under-used special treat. If your dude feels silly, pack it in a Trader Joe's cooler, now who's the picnicing hipster? Brain-lapse moment? Here's 53 picnic food ideas to get you started.

*Got big dreams but no cash? Window shopping. Each person picks one place they'd like to go to, and you check them both out in the same date. This looked like REI for Stefan and a local 3-story bookstore for me. Inspiration for both without spending a dime (and hello! super sneaky way to find a great gift for your significant other to keep in your back pocket!)

*Local art gallery night, music festival, hacky-sack tourney, food truck lineup, gear-head show, zombie-run, or whatever you know nothing about. It's really fun to do something you might never actually plan in your free time.  It's 100% better with your spouse. There's usually samples, and possibly free wine. Hey, we've done it!

*Just get some ice cream, and find someplace quiet to talk. Doing is overrated, just listen, be, and reconnect. And eat cold ice cream.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Quirky and Mathemagical (Yup, I just made that up)

1) Press play while you go brush your teeth, take a quick sip of water, and change out of your pajamas (no judgement, I know it's Saturday). 

2) Now check out this week's kid-lit post on my children's book review blog, The Well-Read Sleepyhead, about the Sir Cumference and Lady Di of Ameter mathemagical series. 

3) Be prepared to answer at least one question about pi.  

Extra Credit: go put as many of these fun books on hold at your local library!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Garden Glimpse

 Our church's community garden is growing like crazy right now. Out here in the Pacific Northwest, we've had a hot spell for at least the past week. Thankfully, our secret beach is a short distance away and a free ocean water cool-off is always easy to get to.

The heat has been amazing for the garden, though, and now it's my turn to water. A friend of mine watered the first month for the summer, and now she's headed out on vacation and I'm up for the next month. It needs near-daily watering, and I know by week three I am going to squeal if there's a day of rain, but honestly, it's a small price to pay (around 30 minutes of work, more if I weed) for delicious organic vegetables for free.

 The bird houses on the fence posts are new this year, and so far I have yet to see any birds flying in and out of them. The paths--aside from the mulched parts--are completely overgrown with clover, weeds, and grass. Once the mulch gets put down everywhere it will look like a prize-winning garden. Up top you can see nasturtiums (edible flowers), cherry tomato plants, bean starts, and behind that is cabbage.

 Ani caught me picking salad greens with the camera. Sneaky, since I didn't see her take any photos, just saw her put the phone down before we were leaving! The black barrel is our store of water from the well, but honestly, none of us know how to use it. One of the men from the church hooked the well, hoses, and barrel up and we don't really understand the system. I have to use an electrical plug to get the well running (not shown) but it's amazing what that well stores. I have to turn it off after 15 minutes because it could overflow and we'd waste the water. This garden has definitely been a community project.

 Here is a view of the rhubarb (fat leaves bottom right), arugula starts (yuck), crazy basil, and nearly-done sugar snaps. Those sugar snaps are our favorite thing in the garden right now. They taste like green, crunchy sugar with a little bit of pea flavor. Delicious! Second row from the right are the leeks, the rabbit-eaten nothingness, and then onions behind that. Next row is/was a salad row. The salad mixture is almost done. Once it gets too hot, it goes to seed and turns bitter. I might get two more weeks out of salad, tops.

 Here you can see the greenhouse in the background, and starting with the salad row, plus a few marigolds. Next over, those big bushy beautiful potato plants! I don't know if we'll still be living here when those are ready, but last year's potatoes were completely slug-eaten and disgusting, and this year they are big and healthy, and bountiful. There should be quite a few good potatoes this year. Over behind that are, I believe beans, but I can't tell from the photo. Then there is a row of beets, and carrots, and further over is another row of cabbage. The large green bushes just in front of the green house are zucchini plants and next to those are cucumbers.

Although I get sweaty and hot almost every day we're in the garden, I love being here, 'cleaning it up' and picking produce. Just this morning I had a haul of salad greens, 2 zucchini, rhubarb, a leek, and a bouquet of basil for pesto. If all of that was bought at market value, for organic, would probably be over $20. Today, I grabbed it all for free, and that food will feed us for a number of days.
Do you garden? What do you love to grow? 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Using VBS as a Restorative Retreat

kayakers off the coast of Bellingham Bay

This past week the kids enjoyed a full week's schedule of games, activity stations, skits, sugar, and friends. Apart from me. Full on 6 hours a day in someone else's care. It was glorious.

Our local church holds a day camp from 9AM-3PM every day for one full week in July every year. It's an outside group called CEF who puts it on, Northwood is just the landing place for their first week. Last year, Lukka was able to participate and had a really fun time. Ani cried on the two-block walk home, because she didn't get to go. We spent almost the entire week hanging out at the local jazz festival, and playing with friends. Now that she is kindergarten age, she could attend. 

It is not an exaggeration to state that I was possibly the most excited

In nearly 18 months since we moved, I had had one other extended break (4 days) away from my kids. Four days. In a  year and a half. While homeschooling full-time. I had hit burnout ages ago but out of necessity, 'we gotta' do what we gotta do' so didn't think about it too much. I was looking forward to an entire week of me. I was almost panicky thinking 'what if one of them gets sick in the week?' and trying not to think about the resentment I'd feel if that actually happen (thank you Jesus!, it didn't). I knew I wouldn't be able to go to Malibu this year for financial reasons, and so this week was so needed.

I often get the feeling that VBS (vacation bible school) gets a bad rap. I didn't grow up going to anything like this, nor had the flannel board experience as a child, so VBS to me is a really neat event for community kids. I'm not jaded, but I'm also not volunteering. I mean, I can bring a large amount of snacks, sure, but I'm not remotely interested in signing myself up for anything but minimal background help at this stage in my life--and I'm completely unapologetic about it. 

See, those day camp workers, they not only blessed the children who attended with games, stories, and snacks, they blessed me by giving me a breather that I desperately needed. A week to regain some focus and inspiration. A week of quiet, reflection, lost creativity, and most importantly, time to recalibrate the spinning wheels. 

Yeah, sure, I was able to keep the house relatively clean last week, get errands done in the sweet half-time it takes without children present, and workout in the morning as opposed to the afternoon  that I have to wait until when my kids are in their rooms for quiet time, but I also set aside time for hanging out with a friend one-on-one, learning a new art practice and spending time doing it, and making myself really delicious and fresh meals that would elicit groans and whines, and ate them leisurely, in peace. 

Of course, all good things come to an end, and the week went all too quickly. I felt refreshed. So, thank you Vbs Volunteers who work so hard to encourage our children to the gospel through science experiments, cheesy skits, and your kindness. You gave our family a double gift: care and attention to the littlest, and time and restoration to the oldest. You've blessed me immeasurably by just allowing me to drop my kids off everyday, you've welcomed them with a smile, and allowed me the freedom to back away and leave, carefree, for a week on my own.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Psssst....Heading to the Library with your Tween this weekend?

Head over to my children's book review blog to check out a great YA fiction read I finished this past week. It's a Newberry winner, so it's pretty much recommended by the best of the best in children's literature. But, you don't have to take my word for it.


Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Joaquin's Creepy Mustache, and Her

Well, that was certainly unexpected. And expected.

Stefan and I spent a couple days watching the Oscar-winning drama Her, and both came away with the feelings of being impressed, creeped out, informed, and well, entertained.

The plot is a modern take on a 1984-esque story. The main character, Theo, played by Joaquin and his creepy mustache (and yes, the mustache was a perfect fit for the character!), falls in love with his computer, Samantha, a female companion 'matched' for him from a series of questions. Scarlett Johannson plays the perfect body-less, sexy voice of the artificial intelligence, who 'learns' as she is used. Think charging your car battery while you run the car, but in a much more complex way.

As Theo is finalizing a divorce, he starts to spend most of his free time with Samantha, who quickly becomes his girlfriend. The other characters try to accept this new 'different' lifestyle, as a lot of people in the culture have started dating their computers, and most take to Samantha very well. Theo's soon to be ex-wife,  Catherine, is the only one who calls him out on it, telling him he has to take an artificial being because he can't deal with real feelings and real people.

The thing, though, about this movie, is that it was presented as futuristic, but our culture is much closer to this than Huxley's Brave New World was to him. The plot of a person becoming enamored with the internet, artificial reality, and a personality found through software is either happening currently or we're teetering near the edge, as a culture, so closely it's hard to say this is distant future science fiction.

Samantha can never put a finger (see what I did there?) on her feelings, but because she is learning new things all the time, she experiences, learns, and grows almost exponentially. She writes music for Theo (amazing soundtrack, by the way, music by Arcade Fire), helps him achieve a goal through his work, and becomes friends with his friends, all as a voice and a personality turned on by beeping an earplug. It's completely wild. And completely realistic. And really intriguing. The setting was a large metropolitan area, similar to Tokyo or Shanghai with architecture similarly found in those cities, adding to the virtual reality consumption believability.

In one scene, Theo has a near panic attack because he can't find Samantha. The computer program reads something to the effect of "offline". He's in the subway system and every single person there is talking out loud, also to their own artificial companion, and the audience realizes how lonely these people all are, and if they'd just communicate with the people they come into contact with, they'd be living much more balanced lives. Instead, they dissolve into these bizarre mind-prisons where they have chosen to believe that their computer 'gets them' better than anyone else; friends, family, neighbors. They've all but given up on each other, and have forgotten that with a few randomly asked questions and a chosen preference for a male or female voice, they have created their own fake god, and it's modeled after themselves.

I don't want to give any spoilers, but I do think this movie is worth the watch, there is so much going on under the surface. Spike Jonze has created a world so closely resembling ours, where virtual reality and the internet has completely taken over human engagement, and the struggle it is to reach the surface of true emotion, real world commitment, and trust. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Into the Wilderness We Go...

Well, sorta.

We were only about 20 minutes from civilization, but when you have to backpack and hike to your destination spot where there are no modern amenities (I'm looking at you electricity and plumbing), it feels like the deep woods. Realistically, we were just north of the valley town of Mission, BC. This spot is Devil's Lake, and it's very close by to massively-more-impressive Stave Lake.

This is probably the smallest lake I've seen yet up there, so small, in fact, I was surprised they even called it such. Stefan was used to smugly calling our Nebraskan lakes ponds, so with a body of water you couldn't even take more than a rowboat out on, I was a bit taken aback. Apparently the fishing is good here, because Saturday there was a large family fishing almost the whole day and then early Sunday morning two more guys showed up to fish.

The kids, of course, love camping and found instant gratification in catching 9 baby bullhead fish in the course of an hour or so. The water was clear, but I was appalled at the amount of trash that had accumulated in this area. During the morning while we were packing up, I went around and picked up the visible garbage and I filled an entire plastic bag! There was more on the trail and through the woods but it looked like the toilet paper variety...... nope, not touching that trash!

Mission is one of my favorite places in the area, because it's just so beautiful. It's north of the Fraser river and sits at the bottom of the mountains. It's less populated than other cities around the lower-mainland and property is cheaper out there, too. Unfortunately, there is only one bridge that connects Mission to the rest of the lower-mainland, and I'm sure that gets bogged down easily in heavy traffic.
Too bad, it'd be a nice spot to live if Stefan's job was nearby!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Found Objects

date night in White Rock at the pier

I haven't done a bag of tricks links in a long time. Here's all the fun, interesting, smart, or silly things I've been loving 'round the internet. Enjoy!

  • She totally gets it. 
  • There are no better girly barrettes than these little candy rolls.  What a perfect little craft idea that won't take more than 10 minutes!
  • How do nerds play? They read young-adult fiction for fun. Currently I'm reading Kate DiCamillo's Flora & Ulyssess and I love it. No wonder it won the Newberry for this year.  Rumors of a movie!
  • This lady's weavings are beautiful. She was starting out well before it was popular (again). I am so inspired by these. I love textured pieces. 
  • I'm on instagram (after, ahem, finally crawling out from under my rock)!
  • Political: Following the Hobby Lobby issue? Stay away from facebook, but see how this liberal secularist shows how conservatives understands liberals more. Too much of a mouthful? Watch his TED talk (on how liberals and conservatives hold different values that make them misunderstand each other) or listen to his On Being interview "The Psychology Behind Morality"
  • I literally just added 15+ more books to my list. How does this happen?! 
  • My oldest was named Bubble King this summer and this DIY will happen soon for neighborkid fun. 
  • possibly the best themed birthday-party ever--at the very least..the costumes!
  • Family outings that cost money aren't in the budget. BUT. $1 movie tickets to kid shows? I can totally handle that! (google your local big box movie theater, most have this or a similar summer promotion!)
  • Yes, let's talk about books all day. Then let's talk about traveling all night.  
  • Speaking of travel, was I the last person to know that REI has traveling group-trips? Like, even multi-sport amazing family options ?  
  • perfect summer music:  (new), (older), (oldest)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Let Freedom Ring

Wishing everyone a safe and thankful 4th of July holiday. May we reflect on those who sacrificed much for our country. 

Amazing Grace
by John Newton (1725-1807)

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall profess, within the vail,
A life of joy and peace.

When we've been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.

Monday, June 30, 2014

June Book Titles

zoomed-in paraglider, around Boundary Bay

Summer is a time where I'm outside more than I'm in, and although I (almost always) have a book in my pack, I find I read less. This month is a bit the same as last. It's a seasonal rhythm I have noticed about myself.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg // I have heard of this book, seen snippets, or read quotes from Goldberg's writing companion for years, and was able to grab a free copy from my paperbackswap community. I make myself write for 30 minutes a day, in the morning when I'm fresh, for practice, brain dumps, and discipline to write down my ideas and flesh out children's books and novels, and work on them regardless of how I'm feeling. Having a book about writing that I can go through daily as a motivator, of sorts, has been a really helpful practice.
This was my third full book I have finished as a writing companion book in the past nine months. It generally takes me about 10-12 weeks to finish one of these. I didn't love this book, but it wasn't terrible, either. It has some really lovely prose, but I found the sections too small, vague, and without direction as a daily dose. Looking back, if I'd have read this for a class, in a setting where we could discuss it, I might have enjoyed it better. Most chapters were 1-3 pages and that just didn't give me the burst of energy I need to sometimes fill a 30 minutes that doesn't come naturally. Anne can make me laugh, and Julia gave me lists of things to do. I need one or the other though I'm glad I gave this book a try. I just found a home for it just this morning by entering it back into the PBS system.

The Story of Charlotte's Web by Michael Sims // This biography was about E.B. White, whose classic American tale about Wilbur and Charlotte was an instant success. The book started with his parents, siblings, and family wealth and ended with his son reading aloud Charlotte's Web in his late father's barnyard to a group of school children, sharing the story with the next generation of readers. Parts of this book were so sweet, but most of it was incredibly dry and monotonous. I love the story of Charlotte's Web and recently had finished reading the original aloud to my own children, two out of the three tearing up when Charlotte doesn't return to the barn. I was excited to read this biography and feel even more connected to the story, but I just couldn't get into it. It took me six weeks and almost three full books finished in between the start and ending point of this book.

Tattoos on the Heart by Fr. Greg Boyle // Oh. OH. OH! I loved this book so much. This is the memoir of how Fr. Boyle, affectionately know as G-Dog by the homies, created the ministry of Homeboy Industries. H.I. gets gang members, ex-prisoners, and teens from cyclical gang families a job in one of the many arms whether that's a cafe, farming, a bakery, silk screening, grocery (and soon to be food truck!). They also provide legal services, tattoo removal, education, mental and physical health services, and training programs. It's basically a holistic approach to lessening the gang influence in the Los Angeles area, and it is so inspiring. Fr. Greg's anecdotes are funny, and his tenderness towards these kids (if you make it to 30 you're old) just exudes all over the pages. His love and acknowledgement of their value just turns on the waterworks. His mission is to tell these kids they are created by, loved, and delighted in by a God who knows them. The physical aspect of the work and services provided are just the overflow of that message. This book is excellent. I'd recommend it to anyone. Want to know more about it but not a big reader? Watch the documentary on netflix streaming.

In the Body of the World by Eve Ensler // I didn't really know what to expect from this book. I read the Vagina Monologues back when I was in college? highschool? and knew Eve was edgy and frank back then. When I heard her on NPR's On Being about six months ago, with her new book out, she seemed much softer. She had gone through cancer treatments and In the Body of the World was a memoir about her cancer, but also about her history of abuse, traveling the world and learning women's stories, and her love for the women of Congo. This book is deeply tragic and graphic, and it is really well written. This is possibly the most self-reflective book -mix-poetry I've ever read. There are parts of it where I felt vulnerable in my own skin, on my own couch, alone, because of how raw it is. It's a story of hope, after so many women, decades, lifetimes, of loss. It's like one big performance piece (that you can understand) with a philanthropist as patron. I liked it a lot.

Cold Antler Farm by Jenna Woginrich // I'll be finishing up this book just before this post goes live, and since I'm neck deep in it, I can write a review. This book has quirky metaphors and is all about a one-woman animal thick 'scrappy' acreage. Of course I'm going to like it. Jenna started out small, in fact I read Barnheart awhile back, also hers, and is now an established farmer who sells goat milk, cheese, soap, and her words to stay afloat at Cold Antler Farm. It's her memoir of why she wanted to start farming, and what she loves about it. The book goes through the farmer's seasonal year, ending with Harvest, and I love that little detail. In each section, there are chapters about what happens with the animals, the garden, and her tasks that change depending on the month. It's so her readers understand that time doesn't really mean the same thing in a city as it does on a farm. If you love learning about how goats breed, getting a feel for curmudgeonly hay sellers, and hearing about pressing parties, it's a solid and good book for you.

(ongoing) The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron // This book is my next writing book, and I sort of feel like I'm cheating because I've already read a JC book this year as a companion. One of my goals for a few years has been to go through The Artist's Way intentionally, and this is the year I'm going to accomplish it.
(current) Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion by Robert Coles

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Birthday Boy's Big Summer Day

Every kid counts down to his birthday. Perhaps not every kid requests he or she can keep the complimentary mailed charity calendar to actually mark off, day by day in red pen, until his or her birthday, but our kid does.  He loves his birthday.

For our children's combined 11 birthdays, we have done a few family-only parties, but mostly we've done a huge day long surprise of fun activities, little to bit, with a few presents thrown in. This year, Lukka requested something new--a few friends to have a party with. Themed, expensive, and loud birthday parties with lots of kids scare me somewhat, so I told him that for one of the longer portions of his birthday surprise, we could take two friends along. He was ecstatic.

The morning started off with a breakfast date with dad-a birthday tradition started by Stefan's father he and his siblings enjoyed while growing up (and into adulthood!). After that, we hitched up the canoe for a little hour-long jaunt around Semiahmoo spit while searching for sand dollars in the 2-feet-deep water. We found a few but it was too hard to pick up one with an oar, underwater, and not have us tip over. I chose to stay dry!

After we came back home and Stefan took the canoe off the car (it's very impressive to watch him do this by himself, might I add), we headed out to Ferndale's Mt. Baker Lanes for some birthday bowling. The kids have never done bowling and thanks to a friend who'd mentioned free bowling for kids in the summer, we had a cheap date. Well, sorta'. Bowling alleys look exactly like they did 30 years ago, because no one goes to them anymore...because it's so dang expensive! Even with the kids' free games coupon, it still cost us just under $20 for our family to bowl 1 game and rent shoes for everyone. That was the most expensive part of the birthday.

After bowling was done, we headed back to Blaine for some homemade pizza and opening up some presents. We always get the kids 3 items: something to read, wear, and play with. Lukka was so excited to get his toy from us; I'd found it for him months ago and ordered in advance. It's called the Georello Tech. He loves it, and double bonus--so does his sister. It's a building set that has chains, gears, wheels, propellers, cranks, and even large rubber bands to create whatever you can think of.

The last part of his birthday extravaganza was hanging out with two friends and having a birthday dinner at the beach. Spending hundreds of dollars is just not feasible, and having twenty kids is over my capacity, but two friends playing in the water and sand for a few hours, and a homemade dinner with some cake? I can totally get excited about that. The kids played for almost 3 hours nonstop and it was a beautiful day (see above). They gobbled up their dinner: custom sandwhiches, doritos, apple juice + water, gummi snacks, and veggie sticks before indulging in the best gluten-free chocolate cake with rainbow sprinkles I have ever consumed. We dropped off the kiddos, gave our two a bath and a shower, and sent them off to bed after a full day of celebrating. We had a great time and I think Lukka felt quite celebrated and showered with affection! We love you, little Tinker!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Miniature Horse Camp

Last week was Lukka's second year of attending an annual Miniature Horse camp out in Ferndale, WA. For less than $100 (that we had paid months ago to reserve our spot!), Lu was treated to his pony Ali for a week, learning about the ponies and how to care for them, and practicing obstacle courses and showmanship skills.

There are only six spots per class and only two or so weeks of camp per summer, so when I saw the ad for it this year, I jumped at the chance because I knew we'd still be in the states during June. Lukka was so excited to do the camp again, even though the basic outline is the same year to year.

The camp focuses on horse care including daily grooming, water and feeding, and mucking, along with learning to show one's horse in 4-H-like competitions. Here is an example of a large mini-hose jumping course. The final day of the camp is competition. The students get 30 minutes to groom and dress up their ponies with ribbons, flowers, etc. in their tails and manes, and then the show gets started. There are two courses, one jumping, and the other more like an obstacle course (getting the ponies to pivot on their hind legs, cross their legs over a pole, and back up into a figure 8), preceded by showmanship, where the students are asked a random question about their horse that they need to answer.

As far as camps go, it is very basic and casual. Parents, siblings, and friends can stay for each afternoon or come and go as they please. We chose to stay one full day (it was a bit long) and the other days Ani and I took off to run errands, get groceries, or have a Mom & daughter date in nearby Lynden.

The family who owns the horses are homeschoolers and the kids fully run the camp, aside from one of the parents helping with first day 'camp safety requirements'. The kids do a great job (the youngest is maybe 12) and are very sweet and kind to the participants. Both years Lukka has been the youngest by far, and most of the students have been in the program for years! They keep coming back, just like us, because it's inexpensive, unique, and very fun to work with the animals.

Before camp started each day, the kids would find stray hay to feed to the horses, who always love a snack. That way Ani got to pat a few ponies before the other kids came to bridle their horses. I wish Ani was old enough to do this camp, but she was still too young. Next year she could participate. I'm not sure if we'll come down for it, but I'll try to find her something similar. She really felt left out and on the first day cried because she wanted to do it so badly. Poor little one...not too fun to watch your brother get to do something when you love horses so much.

Lukka really enjoyed his time at camp and this year won three first-place ribbons, although his pony was finicky and giving him a hard time. He continued to stick to the course and not let her orneriness get the best of him. Having grit, he didn't give her an inch, and made her follow through every single part of the course, which impressed the judges for his age and size. Because he often volunteered to take care of ponies whose 'caretakers' were not around for a day, he also got awarded "best care" award this year as well as last. He always made sure each pony was exercised, watered, and fed daily!

It was really fun to watch him and the other kids with their horses. Working with an animal gives kids confidence, a new experience, and delight in a pet they may not ever have much of a chance of seeing let alone caring for. It was something Lukka had marked on his calendar and had weeks of counting down to. Pony camp has been a great memory for him these past two years!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Strawberry Pickin' in Whatcom County

An annual activity our family enjoys is strawberry picking. Nebraska strawberries can be a finicky thing, and the last couple of years we were living there a late frost or crazy storms destroyed the crop. We got a few, but not as many as years past. Last year, we came home with so many strawberries from Barbie's Berries out in Lynden, that they lasted until last month in the freezer! For every corn or cattle farm in Nebraska, is a berry farm in Washington. They're everywhere. Strawberries, raspberries, then blueberries, in that order, over the span of about 6 weeks or so. 

We took our opportunity to pick a 10-lb bucket full of strawberries yesterday morning with some friends. They are so ripe, the juice stains the fingers within minutes. Ani, who loves strawberries more than any other fruit, had juice on her hands, shirt, pants, and backside! Every year she manages to get a stomach-ache from her indulgence!

The strawberries were at their peak and probably had *maybe* five days left on them. By the time we got them home, all they were oozing juice and quite squishy. If we had gone about five or so days earlier, they probably would have been a bit more firm, but these will make excellent smoothies and fruit leather!

it was a little bright out!

We went to Boxx Berry farm near Ferndale and they had a great setup for u-pick. They even had a little general store with local cherries, raw honey, and homegrown bouquets for sale, too. Out back was a sparse playground that we didn't stay too long at because the kids were restless. I got some dog-time in with the local golden retriever who was romping around from one family to another, trying to get as many pats on the head as he could. 


If this sounds like fun and you are in Whatcom county, a fabulous resource I've found is the Whatcom Foods & Farm Finder, a large brochure that comes out every year. In it you can find farms that sell (most have picking for customers, too) berries, cheese, honey, nuts, veggies, and other fruits.

 If you're outside western Washington, an online resource is called and with this website you can find u-pick farms all over the country. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Birthday Interview... 7

Last year we started birthday interviews, which is a tradition I love. It's amazing how kids develop, grow, and change their 'favorites' from year to year. Today we're celebrating Lu's 7th birthday (!!) with an all-day extravaganza, and a big first--friends celebrating with us.
I'll be taking pictures throughout the day and sharing here how we celebrated our boy with an all-day-long surprise family date doing things he loves. Towards the afternoon, we'll be picking up some friends to join us. Happy 7th little dude, we love you!

*Where do you live? Blaine
*What is your favorite food? Thanksgiving dinner
*What is your favorite drink? pop
*What is your favorite color? red
*What is your favorite animal? dog
*What is your favorite book? Sonic
*What is your favorite toy? my cell phone (yes, it's a toy!)
*What is your favorite song? Jesus Loves Me
*What is your favorite thing to do inside? play on my tablet or make a fort
*What is your favorite thing to do outside? play with a friend
*What do you want to be when you grow up? a scientist
*What makes you sad? Spanks (second year in a row, haha)
*What makes you happy? dessert
*Where is your favorite place to go? Lincoln
*What is your favorite thing to do? visit grandparents
*Who are some of your friends? Gabe, Jayden, Proctors, Ian, and Austin
*What does mom always do with you? read
*What does dad always do with you? go for motorbike rides and rollerblade

New questions:
*What are you looking forward to this summer? June 21st (birthday)
*What do you like to take to bed with you? teddy
*What are you the best at? rollerblading
*What is your favorite season? summer
*What is your favorite movie? Sonic

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

29 Before 30

Every year I make a list of fun/silly/simple/complex/random things I want to do, learn, or try in the upcoming year. Usually most get done, not always. I do this because there are crafts, foods, and activities I want to do, but if I don't plan intentionally, they just won't happen. Life will get in the way and I will regret not spending my time more wisely. 

These lists help inspire me when I'm bored (I can't remember the last time I was) or just restless for a new activity and help us plan our weekends as a family, too. I don't put any pressure on myself to complete all of these in a year, but of the ones I do finish, I have great memories and I'm glad I had the experience and learned something new!

29 Before 30

*Knit a Katniss Cowl
*Read a Malcolm Gladwell book
*organize my cooking binder (um, more of a chore that's been put off for YEARS!)
*visit the Bellingham Farmer's Market
*Go Strawberry picking
*Try snowshoeing with the family
*take kids on a movie date in the summer
*do water balloons in the front yard
*revamp blog design
*make a textured wall piece
*explore a new National Park
*get a piece published in a children's publication
*have a GF cupcake date with Ani
*camp & canoe -- same trip
*make a My Little Pony costume for Ani (via MyCakies)
*make sleeping bag teddies for kids + cousins
*homemade bubbles with kitchen tools!
*make a photo series with collected rocks + wood
*clean out/purge and vacuum the car (good night, it's bad)
* try skateboarding (2.0)
*go through The Artist's Way
* make chocolate + coconut energy balls
*make Aimee's Mediterranean taco salad & actually roast the chickpeas
*create a Beci Orpin-inspired embroidery piece
*Make a Moroccan tassel necklace 
*make fabric-triangle-pom scarf re: muita ihania
*go through the book Replenish slowly and with intention
*bake Stefan homemade pretzels
*put family pictures in my locket

What do you want to try or learn how to do this year? 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Let's be Equal Opportunity Celebrators

sticking our toes in the fountain at Western University 

I've been chewing on a thought for a couple of weeks now, and it struck me earlier in the week that maybe I should just share it, because if I need mental reinforcements, someone else probably does, too. 

I've been thinking a lot about how we celebrate other people: their opportunities, their successes, their achieved goals, a life-changing pivot point like a marriage or a baby's birth, or even something simple--like a great-looking haircut. 

I know some people who can't be on facebook much because of the un-ending comparisons they will make between themselves and everybody else; choose a category in life. I know others who hate pinterest because they will inevitably feel like failures if they don't do All the Crafts or have The Perfect Eternally Clean House.  

Me? One of the things I get down in the dumps about is when I feel trapped in one place, unable to travel and see things outside my little pinhole camera view. Summer is great for adventures and it's when most people vacation. Last year our big travel included a moving truck and a 1,800 mile freeway tour. This year, we won't be going anywhere significant outside of a 2-hour radius. For someone who traveled more before the age of 19 than most people do in their lifetime, this sort of feels like (ridiculous, first world, silly, _____ ) being trapped and tethered to responsibility, without any fun rewards along the way. 

It's only been a few years, but it can seem like you'll never make it when you're running towards the goal, and the ribbon keeps getting pushed back a few more miles when you get to your last loop. 

I don't want to feel this way, and I try really hard to fight it. Collectively, can we all just admit that we sometimes just have to fake it til' we make it? That our answer to prayer might not be just around the corner, and we might not get that thing we want? Our lifetime might include waiting, but our hope is not in the things we want, or the results we can easily measure. Our own success is in the waiting and the humble act of submitting before God that He owns this thing. 

It's so easy to fall into a well of discouragement and toasting at your own pity-party, but with whatever emotion or comparison you're trying so hard to stay on top of, let's just admit that this side of heaven can sometimes seem a little...long. Our opportunity is to keep our eyes on Jesus, and we have that every day. Hebrews 12:3 says this, "Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and loose heart." (my emphasis)

But it's really hard to celebrate other people's success when you feel like you've had nothing but fails, waits, bills, setbacks, and limbo for a long time.

I don't want to be a complainer, and I don't want to stay in a stagnant spot in my personal growth. I want to celebrate others, and I want to feel grateful for their successes and opportunities. I want to be an equal-opportunity celebrator. To celebrate means to commemorate, to make publicly known, to proclaim, to praise widely, to perform appropriately, to participate. Those are all such powerful, active words. We can take that role in the lives of those around us, participate in the guts and glory and rejoice for the blessings we have been given, even when our own lives can feel inactive.

I'll keep praying for movement, or at least eyes to see the horizon, and you do that, too. In the meantime, I wanted to tell you how much your new haircut suits your sweet face. And I mean it.