Monday, December 29, 2014


I got to have lunch with a good friend on her birthday today. Afterwards, we went to her place and she let me take a few pictures of her baby boy.

I fell in love.

One thousand gifts and still counting (6394-6459)

a gorgeous foggy morning photo shoot
the heat of a fire

a great year to look back on
medieval great books
high school Bible
graduation emcee
growing friendships with amazing women

chocolates in the office
sweet first graders for grammar
another year homeschooling
skate parties
slumber parties

66 Books, a sixth year, and soon a seventh
pool parties
breakfasts with friends
lunches with friends too
Marshall's Mom

a laundry room painted
and door knobs painted too
paintings from David
his 80th birthday
Anita's heart

lunch with my dad
a great Thanksgiving
a couch for the school room
chatting with Jackie at Panera
Jennifer at Target and her heart

two scarves knitted (one for Lanie, one for Jennifer)
homeschool skate
Linda at the table
and her having us at her table for a spring lunch
two wooden benches

the opportunity to photograph other families
Jim and Judy and holy ground
Erin riding a bike
Lanie in jazz
Erin in piano

and her rendition of Ode to Joy
music in the house
wine on Fridays with friends
a fourth celebration
and fireworks seen from the field

Christmas party invites
gifts for my kids
neighbors who check in on us
the reminder what grace is
and the hug

three years here
home, sweet home
woodland sounds
sunrises and sunsets here
field fragrance

the snows and ice in a year
gifted Valentines from neighbors across the street
Kristine back in town
a talk with Doris
friends in Janet, Kathy, Amy and Julie

a movie day out with my man and kids
being part of the video team at church
Erin, playing camera 4
coconut cream pie, gifted
bread, soup, salad, angel food cake, pie

Teena and her family for a Sunday lunch
David's pictures on the wall
peppermint ice cream to gift away
Janet back on the blog

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The twenty

I've taken the survey a few years in a row. And my answers are different in ways that surprise me. Like number 18: best use of time? It was always hospitality. While a worthy endeavor for sure, I would say that this year, my best use of time was photographing families. Such a personal and fulfilling way to engage with others in a variety of circumstances that went beyond taking a picture.

1. Perhaps the single best thing? It came at the end of the year when I realized we'd be blogging through the Bible for a SEVENTH year. Thanks, God!

3. An unexpected joy--my dad taking me and the girls out to lunch.
5. Three words to describe the year: wholehearted, fulfilling, fast-paced.

8. Best books: Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers by Leslie Leyland Fields; Table Life by Joanne Thompson (not compensated to recommend or review these books)

12. Spiritual growth--giving God some of the biggest things out of my control and watching him wow me in his response.

You can check out the questions and review the year for yourself over at The Art of Simple.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Turning towards a new year

I transferred special dates from one year to the next: friends' birthdays, our wedding anniversary (like I'd forget!), our (upcoming) fourth year here.

My dad will be seventy-nine in 2015.

David will be eighty-one.

My sisters are in their fifties.

Lanie will be thirteen. Erin will be nine.

And though transferring time from one year to the next in the past seemed rote, these years it carries with it a certain weight. Lifetimes don't seem as vast as they once did in youth.

I remember the hospital worker meeting with my sister and me after we'd been told my mom had less than two weeks to live. I sat in her office and cried. I remember how she asked me, "What do you want, Courtney? One more day?"

One more day. One more birthday. One more holiday. One more chance to make the lost years right. Yeah, melancholic meets optimist in the pages of a new year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Reason number 1,275

I love my house. I love this yard.

Best photo shoots ever.

Even (and maybe especially) with foggy starts.

This year I've photographed a few events and several families, many of them right here in my yard. Such a joy and honor. Several have used their photos for Christmas cards this year and as gifts for relatives. So grateful to be part of the process.

fun in 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On wholehearted

Its antonym is half-hearted. Lukewarm. Tepid.

Oh, wholehearted. Where did you take me this year? You had me look beneath the surface of things, to hearts and my very own too. I learned and I knew that it wasn't just about enthusiasm, not for a melancholic, but it was about commitment and honor and following through.

Living wholehearted took me to private places to catch tears, into a terminal man's home for a last family reunion and photoshoot, to a friend's hospital side to take her home, to her daughter's performance to cheer her on, to taking a gift and giving it away over and over and over.


Living wholehearted was the very ordinary of stacking wood,

yard arms

cutting a field,
spring day

serving a Friday glass of wine.

Friday bonfire

Living wholehearted was saying yes to new friendships and yes to vulnerability and yes to hard things. Pushing through and pressing on.

On, on.

Single-minded. Ardent. Avid. Eager. Enthusiastic. Excited. Exuberant. Fervent. Genuine. Heart-felt. Hearty. Whole-souled.

It was about wholeheartedly following Jesus when I felt irritated and wanted to turn away from right things. It was about wishing another well in the face of disrespect and disregard. It was about determining to gift hardened hearts anyway.

It's my race to run.


It was about a crazy pace and dirty floors and laundry piles and cluttered table tops. It was about 3 a.m. and filling in where others faltered and pursuing the Lord with my whole heart, day after day. It was about looking at things that really matter and aligning my life to back it up--what is my priority? What comes first? What do I value? Does my calendar reflect that? Do my words back that?

family selfie
Marked by earnest commitment. (Following through. Reliable. Trustworthy.)

It's about following through--a scarf for Lanie that she won't remove (she treasures it!), movies on the couch with the kids, dinner on the table night after night. It's about loving in rejection and trusting God for solving problems. It's about gratitude for every day, every breath, every smile, every sunset.

knitting a scarf for Lanie

Completely and sincerely devoted, determined or enthusiastic. (Real. Present. Whole-souled.)

While, at times, I may not have been entirely enthusiastic (because loving mean people isn't a cake walk), I could be determined.

I could be real.

I could be present.

I learned that when I step out in faith, God is there. And I appreciate all the more the people whose lives reflect wholehearted living--it's easy to see who they are. They are the ones who show up, and they bring their hearts.

Monday, December 22, 2014

One thousand gifts and still counting (6358-6393)

a barren winter tree speckled with big, black crows
warm rooms
warmth of a blanket

the sound of my kids playing inside the house
their laughter
getting along days
the chance to hold a sweet baby boy
an afternoon visit with his mama

gifts from a neighbor that thrilled my kids
sunrises through the woods line
drifting fog
the checkout woman at Wegmans
our conversations

piano books found for hand-me-down
a scarf for Lanie
a visit with David
three paintings
Christmas music

a seventh year on 66 Books
tears in the afternoon
Christmas craft day
photobook memories for the girls
a cross with white lights

peanut butter blossom cookies
organic sugar
serving at church for Christmas services
homeschool skate days
Erin in my arms early in the morning when she had a bad dream

decluttering, and thoughts about an uncluttered life
for David, a father who chose me
Erin yelling down the laundry chute
tidied spaces
texts with Nora and Beckie

handmade Christmas cards from Michelle
honor in the mail
no school

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Balance in the runaround

A list of things to do. After piano, we went by David's to get some paintings of his. One is of hot air balloons above rolling hills, another of a river and sky light glory, a third a village with vibrant colors--his impression of another artist.

At his house, we sat and the kids played with the dogs. David talked to me about things, aging mainly, and all of this morphed into a beautiful reflection of life. I wish I had taken notes, or recorded him, because my scattered, fast-forward thinking pulled me in different places at once.

I sat and looked at him and focused on what he was saying:

About seventy-five being an active opposite of eighty; of aches and pains and restrictions and limitations; of time and reflection on life stages and accomplishments; and how at eighty he has less clutter in his time and life (distractions, errands, amusements, things, responsibilities, thoughts) that he can truly slow down and focus. He said a page with just a few words, and more white space, is much easier to understand than a page with a thousand words. How life at eighty has opened up an uncluttered opportunity of white space for him to appreciate its wonderment that occasional boredom affords.

I think of summer and my children with  no TV and no video games or other distractions, and this big woodland adventure that sparks creativity and laughter. His word wonderment hits close to my heart, and I nodded my head at his example now, a continued wonderment in his inability and age.

He gave me the painting of the hot air balloons and told me it was unfinished.

"It is?" I asked, looking at it.

"I forgot to paint people inside the baskets," he said. "I imagined myself riding in them as I painted. I just didn't get around to putting people inside."

His look was wistful, oh wonderment of new horizons.

That painting will go in our school room. I thought of his words on the way home, the balloons and no passengers, eternally empty, soaring above at a dawn or sunset--who knows? And maybe it's best this way, the emptiness--because in my mind, and in my heart, David will always be there.

He told me to find balance in life, and he emphasized his words like an underscore, to clear out the clutter and be present in my place in life so that I don't look back one day and wonder where it went.

Then he looked satisfied, like after a cream pie dessert, and he smiled.

I still have that list of things to do. And really, it hardly seems important.

I prefer sitting here a little longer with thoughts of David (and tender tears), his beautiful visions painted by his hands (those beautiful hands that have always reached out for and held mine), his art adorning my walls.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


There are a lot of nice things about waking up before the kids.

  • I can get the fires going so the kids have warmth to welcome them when they come downstairs.
  • I'm the first person my husband talks to, and I get to start his day off with encouragement and words of love.
  • I get a few hours to scoot around the internet. Today, I hung out on Pinterest for a while, and I also found some really awesome photography sites--one is a mom out west who not only takes amazing pictures, but also homeschools her three boys. I had to send a message her way, albeit one of envy at the abundant natural light her home has. 
  • I get to read and write without interruption.
  • If it's during the school year, I get my thoughts together for the day and all materials organized. (But we are officially on Christmas break, so none of that today!)
  • And I get to see beautiful sunrises coming up through the woods. One day it was bands of steel wool and gold. Today it was purple ombre. 
I love the sunrises here in a different way than I did in big sky. They sneak up on me in the woods, and I see winter life in a way that invites me into its secret, as opposed to big sky that sang a chorus of glory. Each beautiful in its own right.


While it wasn't an official school day, we were there for Christmas craft. I was completely set for vacation mode, but was grateful that I got to spend time with a community that feels more and more like family each year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Melt in your mouth

My friend Julie just gave birth to her first son. I'm heading over to her house with my girls today to drop off some food. In addition to dinner foods, I decided to make a loaf of cinnamon bread, a la Pioneer Woman.

Oh my gosh.

Oh my gosh.

I put the ingredients in the bread machine and set it on dough cycle, using cinnamon chips instead of her swirl method. I put the whole shebang in a bread dish, and the loaf puffed up like an enormous chef's hat. So with the second batch, I split it into two loaf pans.

The chef hat loaf was a bit of a disaster in that it was so large that it didn't cook evenly throughout. So we had to creatively sample that one with some butter.

Oh my gosh.

Here's a link to the wonderful recipe. My changes were that I made it on the dough cycle of the bread machine without heating the milk, but I did melt the butter. I also used one cup of cinnamon chips instead of rolling and slathering, etc. And I used bread flour for the chef's hat loaf.

Yummy yum yum.

We are some happy campers here. I can't wait to give this to Julie.

Monday, December 15, 2014

One thousand gifts and still counting (6322-6357)

the wonder in the wait
that girl--she's eight
cards in the mail
Linda at the dinner table

heat from the stoves
working lights in the bathroom
a friend's healthy baby boy
another's daughter's performance on ice

camera 1
chocolate cake
an invitation from a neighbor
a great time at their party for all of us
people who made us feel welcome and worthy

a short week in school
a piano teacher's womanly wisdom
Nicole for coffee
shopping with Michelle
a book in the mail for Jennifer

and the occasions that prompted me to read it years ago
photography shoots on the horizon
cookie baking with my kids
perspective on priorities

contentment in no
Christmas coming
a Savior who loved me before I loved him
his humility, love and sacrifice
the holy Spirit's work on my heart

rumors of a move
ice skating sessions
a good dog
letting go of want
food in the fridge

meals in the freezer for Julie
an unexpected Monday off

Friday, December 12, 2014


He comes home to a warm house tonight and I stoke the fire.

"I'm going to have to get some more starters made up," I mention. "It's nice when this stove has some coals still hot in the morning so we can just start up from them."

"I haven't had that happen in a while," he tells me. We discuss fire strategy and planning.

"We should get some wood stacked up for the morning," he comments.

"I already did," I say. "Didn't you see it in the garage when you came in?"

Pause. Pause.

"I guess not," I finish.

"No, I meant have wood stacked up by the stoves. Different sizes and starter pieces," he explains.

"And fill up these (egg carton lids that we use to hold the scooped kindling)," I say.

Pause. Pause.

"That's a good idea," I agree, handing him two egg carton lids. "Why don't you get these scooped up for tomorrow's fires?"

Smiling, me.

"Um, by we, I really meant you," he laughs and walks off to get wood for the morning.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Four years ago, she celebrated four. It would be her last birthday at that house. So thankful that when we got our nudge to move, that God gave me the gift of experiencing many lasts there so that I could have closure.

Her last birthday there

Four years later, we celebrate her eighth birthday here: her home of half her life. She likely has more memories of this place, at this point, than she does of the other house--but every once in a while she surprises me when she thinks of an old neighbor friend. It doesn't happen as often as it used to.

Anita drove down our driveway accompanied by snow flurries and bringing a festive gift bag, as well as her hugs and kisses. She inhaled deeply outside and inside, enjoying the fire smoke. I love Anita so much.

Erin chose spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, and we picked up cupcakes at Wegmans for dessert. Delicious!
The kids picked the pandas
No one makes better cupcakes than Wegmans.

Lanie was eight when we moved here and celebrated her ninth that first fall. I look at Erin now, my big little girl, and try to imagine Lanie going through the move experience that size and age. In the six years to come to make our ten here, Lanie will be eighteen and considering her future. This home will be full of their growing up memories.

Thank you, God.

Happiest wishes to Erin, my sweet eight. Sassy, determined, goofy and free.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


I only just started to shop yesterday during a break between school and the electrician's visit. I walked out with a bag that seemed more expensive than it should be. Christy and I looked at the loot spread out on my couch as I portioned items and bagged one for Lanie, one for Erin.

Erin's Christmas list is a phonetic, run-on wish list of treasure. In some places, she cut out pictures from catalogs and pasted them on.

Lanie's list is numbered neatly and double spaced.

I look over Lanie's list. My heart kinda skipped at some of the simple things she asked for. Things like socks, a drawing pad, envelopes and stamps for sending letters, a new hair dryer ... pistachios. A few special toys were listed. I notice the growing distinction between the young lady she's becoming and the little girl she's leaving behind. 

Christmas music plays throughout the house.

Monday, December 8, 2014

One thousand gifts and still counting (6303-6321)

a birthday cake from Wegmans

a skate party for Erin

Erin and Abigail

Luana and Erin

skate games

a table full of friends

Shea, Luana, Sage, Lanie, Cara, Abigail, Erin, Marissa

friends who join in on the fun
Hope and Fernanda

Me and Kellie

With Lisa

a frustrating event/stand-up that made me think hard on wholeheartedness
friends who know reliable electricians
heat in the woodstoves
a Christmas party invitation from a neighbor

It's a Wonderful Life, all black and white, with my husband on a Saturday night
that God hears prayers
a beautiful moon rising through the woods line
foggy days

a pot of yummy soup
wishes through the mail
a friend who inquires about gifts for my kids
a gift certificate thanks
a ride with Sharon to a holiday symphony performance

little girls listening to Nutcracker selections

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Chill in the weather

Perhaps it's my most ridiculous stand yet, but it's what I'm doing. After receiving the electric company's shame letter that we use 30% more electricity than our neighbors (when they should have been sending us a cookie platter for being their best customers!), I purposed to not have the heat pumps heat the main level of the house if I could help it. We've got three fireplaces here--and I was going to rock my inner Cinderella over them.

A friend came home from a Thanksgiving trip to Disney and texted me the temperature in her home.

"Welcome to my world," I replied.

Her husband exclaimed: what do they keep their thermostat set on?!?

It's not so bad ... most mornings I'm up with Shane and while he's prepping for work, I'm starting fires. The heat they produce is DELIGHTFUL. (And many times there's remnant heat from the evening before.)

The kids come down from their rooms (the upstairs is pleasantly heat-pump heated) to a toasty main level if I have my act together.

Friday, we were out of the house most of the day. I started fires early, but we were out by 9 to a holiday performance in the city, back quickly to try to revive the fires, then out again to pick up holiday cards to mail, and plates, etc. for Erin's birthday party.

The neglect from being out most of the day meant that the house was chilly. A neighbor stopped by with an invitation to their Christmas party. I invited her in.

"Don't judge me on the condition of my house, we've been out all day, and homeschooling is messy," I said. I really wasn't sweating what she thought on a serious level. People will make all kinds of assumptions no matter the condition of the house.

She laughed.

"That's a lot of wood you have out there! Did Shane chop all that?" she asked.

"No, we bought it," I smiled. "We're heating our home by wood this year. Though we've been out all day today, so it's not as warm as it usually is."

(Our usual inside temps can be 75 and above. Sing!)

It didn't feel too bad, though, despite being out all day, and out of curiosity, I glanced at the thermostat. It read 62.

"OH GOSH!" I exclaimed in all caps. "It's 62. I'm acclimating!"

We had a laugh over it. She understands. She heats with wood too.

"I'll call you when I get my house cleaned up so you can come see what it's supposed to look like," I said. I hugged her for her thoughtfulness and consideration to invite us to their party.

The fires took off and the house was full of warmth and light. A pleasant welcome home for Shane.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


We put the tree up on Sunday. All of pop-pop-popping the sections together and plugging it in. Yay for the pre-lit tree. We put it by a window and found a nearby neighbor positioned his similarly so we could enjoy his lights as much as he enjoyed ours. (He told us so one year). Sweet.

Erin asked me about the Fisher Price Nativity set. Apparently, she looks forward to it because it only comes out at Christmas. It was at the bottom of a box. I took it out.

"Joseph is missing," Erin said. One of the two girls said, "I don't even remember what he looks like."

Erin pushed the button that played Away in a Manger, more than once. Now, going on a third day, I hear the most exuberant nativity playing ever. It's a little disturbing. Example:

"OH JESUS!" one yells. In another time (meaning my own childhood time), I would have thought they were swearing.

"Quick, to the manger!" another calls out. Great drama ensues.

I try not to laugh at their dialogue. They talk plainly of Jesus and his return and heavenly bodies and new names.

"Wouldn't it be cool if he comes back on his birthday?" one asked.

Today, it sounds like Jesus is at the grocery store as one of the girls rattles off a list of baking ingredients.They pay in gold.

"Mary?" one called.

"Yeah?" the answer.

"Come on outside."

Queue Away in a Manger.

(Me, laughing inside. Self: do not forget this!)

A wise man rides past me on a camel, and Erin seats herself at the piano and plays Good King Wenceslas and We Three Kings of Orient Are.

Good life.

Monday, December 1, 2014

One thousand gifts and still counting (6286-6302)

bands like steel wool and gold--the morning sunrise through the woods
a Thanksgiving meal with people I love
dinner here with David and Anita
fat flakes and staying home
a hot fire

chats with Cindy
her apple pie recipe
texts and emails with friends--kind words
cookies as big as a hand
a tradition out with the kiddos that they want to continue in their own families some day

Denise in the parking lot
mild temps
Erin helping in the kitchen
Denise, her friendship
laughing in the field with the family during our own photo shoot

paintings by David