In My Textile Studio: Moonphases

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Asa is nine moons old! (Is that a measurement?)
This bedspread for my friend Lea was dyed with indigo using batik wax to make the moons and block printing ink to make the phases.

I’ve tried lots of different fun techniques in indigo and decided that batik is not my jam! The effect is made by drawing your design in a wax that will resist the indigo dye and then reveal your design in the fabric’s original color when you remove the wax. It makes such a cool effect and maybe I’ll try it more with different wax, but for now I am happier with the brightness and clarity of block printing ink on top of the indigo.

I think even if your current creative strategy is working for you, it’s important to try new styles and stretch yourself by learning new techniques. Even if you don’t end up ever using that different method again, seeing your work from a different perspective can improve what you do.

What is something new you’ve tried to up your creative game?



Easter Sunday: All Things are Made New

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Renewal is such a hopeful idea. It embraces the reality of where we are without downplaying what we’re going through, and yet it promises something so much better. 

On this Resurrection Day may you be made new again like a bright spring morning who’s winter has long melted away. May God reach into the painful places in your life and renew both your circumstances and your courage to face them. May the cynicism we get from living in a disappointing culture be reborn into innocent hopefulness, like a baby’s guileless wonder at a tiny chick.

May we all experience a taste of resurrection on this shimmering spring day.

Revelation 21:5 “Behold, I am making all things new.”



Lavender Ameraucanas: I Refuse to Feel Guilty About Loving Pretty Things

In a batch of chicks we raised five years ago (and then gave away when we moved) there was a beautiful hen who’s icy, gray/blue feathers I have never been able to forget. When I started seeing pictures of #lavenderameraucana chickens I remembered my lovely bird and knew we needed to have some lavenders of our own. I kept a look out for two years before I came upon some available in my area! On Friday we picked up these lovely purple chicken babies!! (And some silkies to boot!) For a while I felt guilty for liking things because they are beautiful. Any time I let aesthetics dictate my choices I wondered if I’d be perceived as vain or superficial. I’ve decided that beautiful things, like flowers, textiles, and purple chickens, serve an essential purpose to capture our imagination and give us joy. 

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Chickens bred for feather hue could be misunderstood as humans’ frivolous over-involvement in nature, but these specific lines for Lavender Ameraucanas were recognized by the American Poultry Association because they also carried the essential traits of a healthy, quality chicken.

I came to respect the APA’s rigorous process after writing a story about heritage poultry advocate, @frank.r.reese, who told me that the qualities of a good show chicken (which sound prissy on paper) are actually the same traits that make them ideal for pasture-based farming.

I say don’t feel fake or superficial for liking pretty things! If aesthetics happen to be an essential part of your wellbeing then wear that red lipstick, paint your walls, and get those purple chickens!! 🔮🕺💜



How Successful is Farming?

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Around this time seven years ago, Justin came back from another frustrating day as a night nurse’s aid, giving shelf-stable jello to patients who had just undergone abdominal surgery. We were newly married and I was weeks away from finishing my theology degree when Justin strode into our apartment after his hospital shift, threw down his backpack and declared, “I WANT TO BE A FARMER.” This statement practically knocked me over. The only thing I knew about farming was from “Little House on the Prairie“ and their farming life seemed riddled with hail storms and barn fires. I panicked, thinking that farming would be a hardscrabble, scratched-out existence.

Seven years later, among multiple jobs and career paths, farming has actually been the most abundant product of our work. This year, our third season of lambing, we’ve averaged two babies for every mama and haven’t lost a lamb yet!

As I look over our flats of garden starts I see some boxes exploding with tiny plants (I spilled the lettuce seeds🙄) and other little boxes are empty. It’s not always possible to predict what thing in our life is going to sprout and which will be more difficult.

I believe we can’t depend on the success or failure of our work to make us feel happy about our lives, because everything is in flux. Today I want to lean into the transcendent hope of a God who promises to be with me regardless of how my efforts pan out!




Spring Lambs!

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This little ewe lamb is April fooling you —babies don’t eat hay! While the flock eats, even the smallest lambs mimic their mothers, pretending to nibble. They won’t start really feeding off of solids for another month or so.

Our flock is two thirds of the way through lambing season and so far we’ve got two healthy babies for every mama! Zero losses!!

Last week we got sixteen babies all in one huge group! It was exhausting but actually super helpful. We achieved this by putting our ram outside the ewe pen for several weeks to encourage all the ewes to “sync up.” Since we have some stragglers who haven’t lambed yet, we’re thinking either we should put the ram nearby earlier, or our first-time ram just needed a couple rounds to do his job. 😬😂

Every season we learn, every season we dial things in a little more. 🐏



How Can a Farming Mama "Do It All?"

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At the grocery store yesterday the cashier called me “octomom” and I laughed but realized that with most kids in school during day, families probably don’t go out with their full squad and regalia as much anymore. I don’t think three kids is very many, but no matter where I go, I get the comment “well you have your hands full,” or “you must be busy.”

I usually just laugh and acknowledge that the person is intending to connect with me, but I cringe when these words come with overtones indicating the person assumes I must be overwhelmed or exhausted. I really enjoy being out and about, so usually when I run into these people I’m actually energized and having fun.

The implicit cultural expectation I can sometimes sense is that kids are an impediment to what adults want to do.

To me, it doesn’t feel weird or extraordinary to bring my kids along on all my adventures. It just makes sense. My kids and I study, play and work together; we spend much of our day on things that enrich all of our lives, like caring for the sheep, making with our hands, or tidying our space.

Our family has intentionally molded the kid agenda to be more accommodating to adult needs and vice versa. If I’m out with the kids I can’t make as many stops as I would if I were by myself: I do have to read my kids and give up on activities if everyone is too tired. But on the other hand, Justin and I have consistently brought them everywhere from their earliest days and nurtured their patience and flexibility so we could all live an active life together. I have no problem with promising special snacks for good behavior on a trip.
(And, assuming I behave as well as my kids do, I get a treat too!)

Do we have meltdowns: of course. But if things are going badly, it’s a moment to slow down, ask the kids to consider their feelings and then ask them to work with me (“are you hitting your sister because you’re feeling tired of walking through the feed store? Once we finish getting things for the sheep we can go. Can you help me pick out which color sheep halter?”)

How do you help keep your kids engaged when you’re out and about?



Fat Tuesday: How to Love All the Fat

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Today is Fat Tuesday, which is the day before Lent begins in the church calendar. During Lenten season, generations of Christians have traditionally given up something like meat, wine, or sweet foods during the 40 days before Easter as a way of setting an intention towards self-examination.

But before it’s time to be all serious and reflective, it’s time to PARTY! Mardi Gras is about enjoying all the beauty and deliciousness at once. It’s about extravagance and lavishness not only for the sake of clearing the pantry, but also to start off the resurrection season with joy and fun. People all over the world have celebrated Fat Tuesday for thousands of years but it seems weirdly absent in our calendars, maybe because we have a cultural problem with fat.

Let’s stop taking advice from the food and beauty industries and love fat for the critical, life-giving lipid that it is! The fat of pastured animals is packed with tons of key nutrients and collagens that help us rebuild our body! Fat is critical to helping our bodies store vitamins, keep energy reserves, have babies, and maintain healthy brain function among other important things. Fat is the flavor: all the best things condensed up when we need them.

On Fat Tuesday, the day before 40 days of confession, we confess that we need fat. It’s been a helluva year and we need to enjoy the goodness of this life we’ve been given.

So on this Fat Tuesday:

  • wear your most fun, fancy outfit,

  • put on all your crazy jewelry,

  • turn your music up loud,

  • use those dishes that you’re always worried will break,

  • wear the bright lipstick/hat/accessory that you got because you love but are worried is too extra,

  • enjoy that delicious beverage,

  • send a garishly insane GIF to your people expressing how much you love them,

  • make that tasty dessert,

  • give too-long hugs, and

  • SAVOR all the fat of living an abundant life!



Questions for My Friends

So in my Instagram stories yesterday I posted some questions so I can get a better idea of who you are and what you care about. I asked “1. What are your values, 2. what are your dreams, and 3. what are you struggling with?” What I learned from your responses was really surprising to me:

1• The number one value you shared with me was honesty (which you also called integrity, authenticity or vulnerability.) This was incredible. For an app that slaps filters on everything, I think it’s so neat that we are all aware of our desire for real ness and being brave with our truest selves!!
2• Almost every single dreams response included a desire for a life more connected to our values and the people we love. A lot of that was centered on farming and pairing down to live simpler, but many of you also dreamed about new experiences and honing your craft.
3• A LOT of us are struggling with the same things! If you can call Instagram sticker answers data, well then the odds are that most people in the room are going through similar or at least similarly tough things, and are feeling the way you are feeling!

It was so brave of you to share those things with me. Thank you so much! I keep thinking about what a gift it is to put my heart out here and find such meaningful connection. I have a really exciting opportunity this next week that I shared about in my stories tonight, and this exciting thing came about partially because someone was on the other side of the screen at a moment when I was feeling not very competent or put together —but I decided to just be honest about it and share our journey.
All I can say is: BE BRAVE! 🌻



The Forge: How [NOT] to Choose a Word for the Year

Ever make plans, only to watch them get flipped on their head in an irony so perfect, you suddenly wonder if you’re on a sitcom? (Which camera do I make that Jim Halpert face into?)
That was 2018 for me.

In 2018 I chose my word for the year: “forge” in its verb form, meaning “to forge ahead.” With all my eager January energy I set intentions to move my life forward. Literally: in April we were moving to Eugene, farm shopping, new job anticipating —pretty solidly forging ahead, if you ask me.
Then, one by one, the pieces of our intended move changed shape and stuff stopped making sense. That once-open door suddenly shut, leaving me inside a different kind of “forge.”
The noun kind. With fire.

From that point, the forge really heated up. I felt like I let down all my new Eugene friends, my hope and vision for our path was scrambled, we were back to square one looking for jobs, and through all this I was having an exhausting pregnancy. Other sad things happened: losses that hurt deeply. These stressors were like compounding units of heat; I laid awake many nights, sweating with anxiety. In the forge of confusing circumstances, I realized that I have no idea how to sit with pain. I responded to pain by analyzing, rehashing, getting on every day, applying for jobs, and trying to strategize a way out without first taking a second to just sit with my feelings.

As Asa’s arrival got closer I remembered a piece of advice from a previous midwife: “Don’t tense up and strain against pain, lean into it and let it do its work.” On Asa’s birthday I decided to lean into the pain and cope by surrendering. The result was unlike either of my previous deliveries. I was more present and grounded, but most of all I had let pain do it’s work to bring me the precious gift of my son.


Surrendering to the forge’s refining fire is making me softer. I actually noticed the other day that I have been less frustrated by some of the things the kids do that usually drive me crazy. Last month, instead of launching a multi-layered angry reaction to something Justin did that made me mad, I just expressed simply that I was hurt.

2018 ended with a 15 minute a day practice that was a very bite-sized act of surrender aimed at helping me sit with my feelings. If I can identify what’s rattling around in my heart then I can more directly (and empathetically) nurture the part that’s out of whack.

My words for 2019 are “strong back, soft front” from @brenebrown’s #bravingthewilderness. I’m building on my 2018 work by offering myself to the world with healthier boundaries and braver vulnerability. Here goes!



December Dispatch: Christmas Vignettes


Rather than have one essay about our December, we’re going Currier and Ives style with a collection of Christmas vignettes. Please enjoy.

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Nutcracker Sweets
   When I was small, my parents kept on the bottom of their bookshelf a Nutcracker book illustrated by Maurice Sendak. It came from the gift shop at Seattle’s Nutcracker ballet, and for years I'd creep into the living room, pull out the big, square book from the part of the bookshelf that lived behind the couch. I would leaf through the book’s pages, both delighted and horrified by the swirl of snowflake fairies, magical candy dancers, vicious mice, and the dreaded, seven-headed mouse king. The two-page close up of the nutcracker’s maniacal, wide-toothed grin was so deliciously terrifying that my brothers and I would flap the book open at each other with screeching noises.
 As my own children’s Nutcracker dance recital approached, we watched George Balanchine’s Nutcracker on Netflix three whole times. It’s a long show with minimal narration, so I was surprised and gratified by Selah and Ozzie’s pure enthrallment with the story and its host of magical characters. We spent most of December scurrying around the kitchen making whiskers with our fingers like the mice dancers and leaping across the living room like the Sugar Plum Fairy.
   Finally, the dance performance arrived. (Click this link to see!)
I couldn’t have hoped for a more satisfying and delightful passing down of this memorable childhood story.

Wish List
Ozzie: “I would like ten pairs of pants, a toy motorcycle, and a toy plant.”
Nana: “What is a toy plant?”
Ozzie: “Like that.” (Points to a houseplant.) “But a toy.”


Cinnamon Applesauce Ornaments
   A few weeks ago, friends of ours described their first-year marriage crisis: pretty tree with matching ornaments or wonky tree with sentimental value? Our tree is a smattering of random ornaments I collected throughout my childhood and ones added in ornament exchanges with my family. Our annual visit to the Christmas Store in Gig Harbor always provides another weird little glittering tribute to banjos, ballerinas, or mushrooms.
  Wonky works for this vignette.
  When it comes to other Christmas decor, however, I get quickly overwhelmed by excess. A house full of kids is an automatic battle against clutter, which hardly leaves me with room for snow globes or figurines (at least not emotionally!)

   Here's the truth about cinnamon applesauce ornaments.
   They fall apart.
   But not immediately, no -for a few glorious weeks they will hold up on that garland between my kitchen and dining room, issuing delightful wafts of apple-cinnamon as I pass by. Then, when I am ready to pack up my tree and random ornament collection, the cinnamon ornaments will mercifully resign themselves.
   They hold no obligations over my head like the stiff perseverance of salt dough. They crumble when they're time is up, not only to graciously release me from packing them every January but also as an invitation to relive the fun of making fresh-smelling ones every year. How polite!
       1 cup applesauce
       1.5 cups cinnamon
       Mix until a dough forms. Roll out, cut and bake on parchment at 200 for an hour. Your house will smell like a spicy apple pie!
   When they start crumbling, compost them. (No hard feelings!)
P.s. You can add elmer’s glue to these so they’ll live forever BUT WHY.

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Christmas Givers
   At the holiday market in Fort Jones, I brought piles of my naturally dyed tea towels, pillows, and tablecloths, expecting to be the giver behind the table. Instead, my friends helped me set up my booth (redesigning it to be 10x better,) brought me breakfast and coffee, and sat with me all day, each one coming and going so that my little 10x10 space felt like a rotating living room. At one point there were four women and two babies behind the table with me; in the tiny nook we sat together on fleece-draped chairs, sharing with an openness that made my heart squeeze against my chest cavity. 
   After practically the whole valley had drifted through the craft fair, we packed up. Still, I was relentlessly helped by a friend who stayed to get all my things into the truck. As the two of us moved my tables, boxes, and sets of chairs into the pickup, tears stung my eyes. 
   The women in my life have not only challenged me to be a better person through conversation and example, but also they have asked me to grow in vulnerability through receiving their extravagant love. Sometimes the giving role feels easier: the “doing” posture can feel more comfortable, more in control. Receiving is an act of embracing someone else’s feelings of love for me, and it nudges my own struggle with self-acceptance.
   This Christmas, I am learning to silence that icky voice of self-accusation and instead behold the overwhelmingly gracious gifts being given to me.

A thrill of hope: when he appeared and the soul felt its worth. May your soul feel its worth through all the vignettes of the holidays.



A Christmas Meditation

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Love (III) by George Herbert

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back, Guilty of dust and sin. But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning If I lacked anything. “A guest," I answered, “worthy to be here”: Love said, “You shall be he.” “I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee.” Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, “Who made the eyes but I?” “Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame Go where it doth deserve.” “And know you not," says Love, “who bore the blame?” “My dear, then I will serve.” “You must sit down," says Love, “and taste my meat.” So I did sit and eat.

A beautiful reflection on this poem.


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November Dispatch: Forty Days of Winter Quiet

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 Fall colors are a visual swan song: rust, ochre, and amber give the year’s symphony of botanical color a final flourish before falling silent. In November, the trees become bare, fog settles over the dry fields, and frost blankets the ground. Autumn’s hue loses its saturation; everything becomes a quiet brown. It’s the pivot towards winter.

    I have always associated winter with cold, loss and hardship. The weather’s icy, adversarial attitude, the darkness looming and foreboding —our language and cultural concept have made winter out to be the bad guy. Most of us are privileged to have a warm house, but I still hear a tone of drudgery everywhere in reference to winter’s season of waiting.

    So maybe winter has been tough on humans in general, but the rest of the natural world seems to take it in stride. Animals have stored their food, perennial plants have buttressed their internal functions against the cold, annual plants have scattered tiny promises of their future, which lie sleeping in the ground. 

    Cold isn’t bad for the bear who has eaten enough, dark isn’t bad to the seed who’s proteins are maturing for spring’s light. Everyone else is ready for winter’s quiet journey inward —so why aren’t we? Why do we need constant stimuli to feel ok?

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    I started an earlier version of this essay with books in hand, trying to answer my burning questions about dreams vs. reality. I had some really punchy, meaningful thoughts which were actually just a load of BS. The books I read were super helpful and inspiring, but I actually need more time to sit with them before I have anything to say. 

    I need winter. 

    Winter is when the world dims and drives us towards what’s going on inside. Everything freezes and becomes covered with snow, like sheets that cover furniture in an empty house saying “It’s not time to use this right now.” Like animals in curled-up hibernation we ought to stop moving. 

    We ought to turn towards the quiet, towards the silence and stillness so we can hear God’s spirit speaking in our hearts more clearly.

    Dreams and reality. I ran at my questions with all the blustery fire of fall’s red leaves and I found…

    …More questions. 

    I am more comfortable with spring’s energetic new starts, summer’s vibrant bustle, and fall’s busy gathering. In winter everything else has gone away: my questions face me with the stark contrast of an empty background. It feels cold and harsh until I remember that winter is my friend. I accept the invitation to stillness and silence.

Do you tend to shy away from stillness too? Is your attitude toward winter a grim “this difficultly will make me a better person” mantra? Did you feel like your soul missed a beat between the candy hangover of Halloween and the inane “Fa-la-la-la-las” resounding through Costco?

    I am trying a new thing this winter. Every day from 6:30 to 6:45 from now until Christmas Eve, I am going to be still and silent. For me, that’s going to look like a contemplative prayer of letting go and waiting on my friend Jesus to speak to my heart. 

Would you consider joining me in 15 minutes a day of winter quiet? It helps me to set an alert on my phone and/or have a friend or two to text about it. I’ll be cataloging my experience on Instagram, #40daysofwinterquiet.

    As fall fades away, may you be ready for winter’s quiet journey inward. May you not shy away from darkness, stillness, and silence, but let these things offer room for your heart to process and, when the season is right, grow.

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How to Find Local Apples

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Growing just around the corner or on the outskirts of your town are apples ripe for the picking! Here are some tips for finding a spot for a little weekend outing with your people, gathering your own fall harvest of future pies, applesauce, cider and/or apple butter!

  • Search on Facebook for u-pick orchards near your city. Facebook pages will often contain the most recent updates for varieties in season, opening times, and prices.

  • Take a walk around your neighborhood and identify apple trees that are going untouched this year. Perhaps you can knock on someone's door and ask to harvest their apples (and make a new friend?)

  • Search this directory for registered orchards by state.

  • Get permission to harvest apple trees that are decorating green spaces in your local business park, library parking lot, schoolyard -apple trees are literally everywhere and many groundskeepers would be happy for someone to save them the hassle of cleaning up after an ornamental apple tree.

  • Plant your own to supply apples in the years to come!




October Dispatch: Apples, Pumpkins and a Hymas Family Road Trip


Temptation! The apples seduced me twice this month: we eagerly loaded everyone in the car with all our snacks, water bottles, absurd baby accouterments and extra toys for the hour-and-twenty-minute drive to indulge in the harvest. 


    Two Saturdays at the orchard may seem like a lot, but until we can get the kids to match the feverish drive of our apple-picking obsession, we’ll have to gather our annual cider crop in several waves. After all, the two hundred and fifty pounds we harvested still produces hardly enough cider to fill a fraction of Justin’s charmingly dumpy collection of mismatched beer bottles. In the kitchen closet behind the pantry shelf, the various shapes of amber bottles of cider will ferment on the floor in row after row like a tomb of jade soldiers (if some were skinny and others chubby.)

    Leonard Orchard in Medford supplies several green cider varieties, Newtown and Twenty Ounce Pippins, as well as an overabundance of perfectly sweet/tart Golden Delicious. There were also brilliantly red Fijis, but we missed all but a small amount which clung to the topmost story of the trees (and were too few to bother with the ladder.)


    Our first visit was met with generously stocked trees, their downward branches carefully pruned to offer glowing fruit obligingly toward Selah and Ozzie’s reach. Two weeks later the orchard hosts were less hospitable, their remaining apples peering shyly down at us from their lofty perches. Justin was at the very top of the ladder searching for the tail end of the crop, while Selah and Ozzie darted up and down the bottom two rungs to transport these finds into some cardboard boxes we got from the grocery store. Asa howled throughout both apple harvests (he does not like the baby carrier.) 

    For the past couple of years, both Justin’s and my work has been like apple picking: we see a small opportunity, we take it (if it doesn’t have bug-holes, that is.) The job is short term and we keep picking opportunities, eventually filling our economic needs like a forty pound box of apples. However, as apple season closes this month and we transition to pumpkins, we’re also hoping to switch to another kind of searching that’s a lot more like pumpkin picking. Picking pumpkins is slower, you’ve got to wade through the options and not only pick one that’s ripe and ready —it’s got to have the right “personality” for you since this will be the one you carve up and display.

    In the same way, this month we’re continuing our search for a farm with an intentional step: a “walk through the pumpkin patch,” if you will. We’re spending the next few weeks driving to several locations that have been on our heart: meeting with realtors, friends, and potential employers to scout out a future home. I will share about our journey on Instagram Stories!

    I have some doubts and fears about doing this: I feel pretty tender and raw about all the times we've thrown ourselves toward an opportunity, only to find that it wasn't quite right. Would you pray that I would have the strength to put my heart out there anyway? Would you pray for Justin and me as we sort through our very different preferences?

  In all your harvesting this fall, whether it be apples or pumpkins, may you have enough courage, enough hope, and enough slow time to be satisfied, plus an abudance to share.


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Homestead Hospitality: Throwing a Halloween Open-House Party with Grace Running-Nichols

While there are many ways to make Halloween more mindful and relational, my friend Grace Running-Nichols has created a #slowhalloween tradition that deeply inspires me: a warm, light-filled open house that offers comfort and friendship to anyone out on a drizzly Halloween night in Gig Harbor.

Photos by Elise Nichols.

Photos by Elise Nichols.

Grace is a follower of Jesus, wife to Dennis, mother of eight, writer, and skillful cultivator of all things cozy and hospitable. In a neighborhood known for being a Trick or Treating hot spot, Grace cultivates an environment where her home becomes a cozier extension of the festivity happening on the street, with neighbors, acquaintences and freinds milling in and out of her bright, welcoming party. Today we’re unpacking Grace’s philosophy behind party-making and delving into how to naturally welcome your community into your home.

Allie: You are someone who I have found to be extraordinarily hospitable, both in the atmosphere you create in your beautiful home and your welcoming presence! These values just seem to emanate from you and I have to ask, what/who in your life nudged you towards developing your sense of hospitality and holding space for others?

Grace: When I consider those who've influenced me to live a life of hospitality, the most important one is Jesus; the second is my mother.

In the feeding of the five thousand, the disciples asked Jesus to send the hungry people away. Instead, Jesus invited everyone to sit on the grass, then asked what there was to share. A young boy offered his lunch. Jesus looked to heaven in thankfulness, blessed it and all were satisfied.

Hospitality to me means all are welcome to share what we have, here and now. At times it may be a feast, on other days it's a half sandwich, with neighbor Ava and our youngest daughter, Ezra, sharing the same chair. And on most days, you'll find flowers on our table.

When I was a girl, my mother always created a beautiful setting with a bouquet from the garden or field, accompanied by something delicious to eat. I loved her oatmeal cookies, hearty and full of spice. I never knew that these she made when my father's paycheck didn't quite stretch to the end of the month. Oatmeal and shortening were two of the last items left in the pantry. With joy she'd serve coffee and these cookies, or whatever she could find, set on a pretty plate. In the Norwegian culture, if there's room in the heart, there's room in the home. 


The open house you host in your neighborhood on Halloween night has become a fixture in my memory of a party that felt both intimate and cozy, while being radically open and welcoming to passers by. Describe the structure of this gathering; how you would explain it to someone you might invite?

Each Halloween, the children and I carve pumpkins with joyful faces, bake mounds of gingersnap cookies, heat a kettle of spiced cider and make two huge pots of red and white chili. We light every lamp in the house, plus candelabras here and there and I'm transformed into the Tooth Fairy (now you know her true identity). Our extended family, neighbors and friends have a standing invitation to join us, but there's always room for more.

Word of mouth invitations mean the evening unfolds loosely. We offer cider and cookies to every parent that accompanies a child to the door, trick-or-treating, and sometimes someone unexpected slips in for chili as well. This year, a couple of my husband's patients are coming. He laughed when he told me they'd asked if they could! 

What inspired you to start having this gathering? What made you decide to make it open house style, as opposed to just a typical Halloween party?

Two decades ago, we moved back to the states from Germany to Memphis. The American Halloween tradition had traveled to Europe, but was present only in its darkest elements. Upon our return home, I was determined to infuse light into every possible aspect of the evening. We created our first "Hallelujah Party" in the garage, inviting everyone we knew. The problem was, there were still children coming to the door to trick-or-treat with whom we'd have no other interaction than dropping candy into their bags.

A few years later, we settled in Washington State in a neighborhood full of children. As our first Halloween approached, I heard that several of my Christian friends planned to close up their homes to arrange harvest parties in their churches. The common thread amongst them was that Halloween focused so much on evil and darkness, that they dared not participate. I refused to leave our house dark and silent on such a scary night for children, asking myself, "If not us, than who will spread Jesus' light?"  My delightful mother found a white chiffon gown, perfect for the Tooth Fairy! Then we bought loads of pumpkins, candles, travel toothpastes (to mix in with the candy) and as many travel cups with lids as we could find. It was an 'all or nothing' plan!


Go over your fundamentals with me: what things do you always like to have/serve at a party at your house? How do you prepare?

The children and I work for many days in preparation. We plant mums, pansies and purple cabbages in the planters in front and always carve a cross in one pumpkin, to speak of the hope that is in us. We all dress in costumes, buy a bounty of candy (more than anyone in their right mind should) and bake dozens of cookies. My close friend Tiffany brings extra delicious side items like grainy bread and chocolate cheesecake. To accompany the chili, we set out every topping imaginable along with sturdy chunks of cornbread. We position cookies in napkins on a table by the door and pour the first cups of hot cider to be ready for every parent at exactly at 6:00. Though friends float in and out, one or two of our oldest children and I stay close to the door all evening.

This may seem like a silly question but how do you let your neighbors know that they are welcome to come in? Does it ever feel strange to invite acquaintances or neighbors you don’t know very well into your home? How do you overcome that potential awkwardness?

Because of the fluidity of the evening and light streaming through every window, there's no awkwardness to inviting people in. Most are satisfied with cookies and cider at the door, but that childlike awe of sharing joy in community is contagious. The adults become less inhibited in the company of delighted children and some are drawn into the festivities without even knowing it. And everyone loves the tooth fairy—unlike the dentist, she is the great equalizer between fervent brushing and terrible teeth habits! On a night filled with candy, there's no condemnation from her!

I've always prayed for God to bring to our door those He wishes for us to serve. Ultimately it's a night where we can share joy to willing recipients. Even the shyest children feel welcome when we look into their beloved faces with love and kindness.


How do you move through your gathering to accommodate for the blend of friends, neighbors, and new acquaintances mixing together?

As far as blending in with those who gather inside, I let my husband, older children, in-laws, close friends and parents do that. Our teamwork makes the Halloween celebration work from the outside in. It isn't my evening for fellowship; I'm the meet and greet gal. Though I must carefully choose who stands with me at the door. One year, when our youngest son was a toddler, he thought he'd help me. Unfortunately the first crew of children on the porch were all dressed in creepy costumes. "You scarwwy, you no come in!" he stated, slamming the door in their faces. That's not the most winsome way! 

What suggestions would you give to anyone who want to throw an open house halloween party like yours? Is there a threshold for how busy your neighborhood would have to be on Halloween night before it will feel really natural for neighbors to be coming and going?

Throwing a Halloween gathering like this solely depends on our own willingness to be open and not worry about the outcome. Some years the house overflows with people, other times we've had very few, leaving us with boatloads of leftovers.

A few years ago, I felt weary of the whole thing; I'd convinced myself that it wasn't worth the effort. Then one fall evening when we were out for pizza, a mother approached me for her children, who smiled shyly from behind her. "Aren't you the Tooth Fairy?" she asked. "We have always loved coming to your house." I didn't recognize her, but she knew me and more importantly, her children had been given joyful memories.

It's been a privilege to share Halloween joy throughout the years, because ultimately hospitality is a wonderful way to express love. And love, like the candy dug from pillowcases, tucked under beds, long after Halloween is over—sticks!  


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Painting with Local Dirt


On Justin's daily winding drive over Scott Mountain, he passes a natural wonder: the rusty, Mars-scape dirt that is Trinity County's signature. He pulled over at a spot where the blazing red hue screamed from the embankment and scooped some into an XL pickle jar, bringing me a solid three pounds of this magical earth to experiment with making natural paints.
   While grinding the sediment down with my mortar and pestle did make me feel like a Rennaisance painting apprentice to Leonardo DaVinci, mixing up an earth-based paint was actually pretty simple. I made both egg tempera by mixing egg whites with the pigment and a water-color style paint using a 1:4 ratio of gum arabic to red dirt. 
   Some of the paint was grittier than I wanted because I discovered that you REALLY have to grind it up quite a bit!
   Justin told me that with every commute he observes more different shades of Trinity Red Dirt, he intends to bring more pickle jars home in the future!



Sustainable Steps: Buy Food from Farmers Who Feel Bad

       I shared on Instagram last week that we lost two lambs because I didn't clear the ewe's milk ducts when I checked on them after they were born. I still feel a heavy weight about being responsible for their loss, but I've switched from beating myself up to carrying a responsibility for doing better. Making a mistake like this has actually catalyzed my learning, and feeling bad about losing those two lambs has actually helped me care more about the minutia of my management.

In struggling to adjust to animal losses, I have begun to notice that other farmers -the ones who are doing it right- feel horrible about the deaths that happen on their watch. My friends, Craig and Jen at Rockside Ranch, almost scared me initially with their stories of dismembered chickens and shriveled stillborn piglets, but I realized that those images affected them because they are brilliantly conscientious farmers. I really believe that farmers who don't feel bad about death are probably not the farmers you want raising your food. 

      Full disclosure: I am an omnivore and I raise animals to eat them. I spent many hours last year trying to reconcile the connection between eating meat and death, cementing my own justification for it while responding to vegans online. It's still too strange for words to witness the raw disassembly of living beings, but getting food on the other end of that process makes it worth it. What feels less noble to me, is the inevitable deaths of animals that don't become food for anyone. Little sparks of life snuffed out by bad genetics or sloppy management. These deaths feel frustratingly unjustifiable. 

      Last June I looked in on our brooder of 30 brand new heritage turkeys and found a wreck of tiny bodies strewn about in the straw, gasping for air. It was only days since their arrival and some had brought with them a fatal respiratory disease that typically arises from poor sanitation in the hatchery. Half of them died.

     The worst of it wasn't really the loss, since I talked the hatchery into refunding us, but I felt horrible that those tiny birds travelled so far just to suffocate in their own bronchial fluids. In my conversation with the hatchery's sales associate, I passed along the comment I had learned from several industry-leading turkey breeders that pneumatic E. coli can often from unsanitary eggs. I could literally hear over the phone that the man was rolling his eyes, and it made a splash of white hot anger wash over me as he dismissed my gentle critique. Of course a business that large would be comfortable with a larger margin of error than our minuscule operation, but that sales associate wasn't the one filling an empty pizza box with the dead. I believe that it matters to God when even the littlest animals die so shouldn't it matter to us?

      Buying organic is great. Sometimes, however, organic food comes from the same big farms that casually pick out dead animals like they're sorting dirty laundry. Agribusinesses that house tens of thousands of creatures in tight quarters just can't escape disease (and sometimes cannibalism!) so they've learned to medicate the heck out of those animals and they've become numb to the high volume of senseless death that happens inside their walls. It's impossible for giant factories to replicate the care and attention that family farms provide.

      When you purchase your food from somebody who is emotionally invested in the animal from which your food comes, you can bet that they devoted themselves to learning the best management techniques for the highest quality product. Sure, we're a little emotionally unstable at times, but it's totally worth it! Just give us hugs, ok?


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This Week At Our Place: Sick Week Essentials

Five little things that helped facilitate place sharing amidst a stressful week of head/chest colds.

1. A giant snuggly blanket.

You might as well be able to envelop everyone at once -especially when we're all sick!

You might as well be able to envelop everyone at once -especially when we're all sick!


2. An invaluable herbal intervention.

This company  has superior transparency and a wonderful mission for growing their herbs.

This company has superior transparency and a wonderful mission for growing their herbs.


3. A quiet afternoon of I Spy.

I loved these books as a child, and for some reason hadn't shared them with the kids until yesterday, when restful, picture-book-hunting was the perfect activity for sick kids.

I loved these books as a child, and for some reason hadn't shared them with the kids until yesterday, when restful, picture-book-hunting was the perfect activity for sick kids.


4. Wood fire heat.

This wood stove is one of my favorite parts of this house. 

This wood stove is one of my favorite parts of this house. 


5. Some hand stitching to do while snuggling with sleepy sickies.

This is a quilt I'm making with shibori indigo dyed cotton.

This is a quilt I'm making with shibori indigo dyed cotton.

Things for sick days:

What are your sick day (or week) essentials? 

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This Week At Our Place

Five little moments of place sharing from my week.

1. Bee pollen: for getting ahead of allergy season.

The goal is that I'll be helpful in the garden instead of miserable!

The goal is that I'll be helpful in the garden instead of miserable!


2. A view that I'm trying to imprint into my brain, every day I can while we're still in this house.

To all of you who sent me a note of encouragement as we look for a new rental, thanks!

To all of you who sent me a note of encouragement as we look for a new rental, thanks!


3. Juniper berries in the loveliest tiny hands.


4. Noodle Face.


5. Front porch bling.