from one hermit to another

I was baking and it was completely mercenary. We had a showing in one hour and I wanted the house to smell amazing.

(Pause: In spite of the amount of cooking I do, I want to reaffirm that this will never evolve into a foodie blog, as I’ve mentioned before. Not because I don’t like cooking, or because I’m bad at cooking, or because I don’t like writing about cooking. It’s just that the everyday level of chaos here is more satirical than informational, and…well, you’ll see. Okay, resume.)

from one hermit to another

Last week we had three house showings in a span of twenty-four hours. Craziness. It’s what my nightmares were made of back when I used to think of putting the house on the market: How do we get the house clean enough (and empty enough) to make it look sterile and appealing to strangers? How do we get all the kids and cats to cooperate? How do we make it look like a normal family lives here, instead of one that outnumbers the Brady Bunch and also comes with a small cat farm?

We’ve learned a few tricks. We hide beds trundle-wise. We clear as much surface area as possible. And we take the cats with us – which upgrades the “how many clowns can you fit into a circus car” joke to the rank of how-many-Guerras-can-you-fit-in-a-Stagecoach. Turns out, all thirteen of us do: each cat gets a carrier, each person gets a seatbelt. Two of the cats go on kids’ laps while the other two cry and hiss at each other in the back.

It’s awesome. Exactly what I imagined when Vince promised me years ago that he would lead me on adventures. Sort of.

So that day last week, I was baking hermit bars. Have you had these? They’re a spongy, spicy, not-too-sweet, completely euphoric blend of cloves, molasses, cinnamon, and nutmeg. See, I told you. No mercy.

They’d been in the oven for a whole two minutes before anyone smelled smoke. Detritus in the bottom of the oven from a few meals back had started to smolder, and instead of wooing buyers with the smell of spicy sweetbread, we frantically threw all the windows and doors open to air out the house.

It, too, was awesome. Just like I’d planned, except the exact opposite.

We put the hermits on hold in the fridge, and got ourselves, the cats, and the smell of smoke out of the house just in time. We loaded the Stagecoach and went down the road to the park to wait it out.

Strange vehicles pulled into our driveway, and strange people walked into our house.

It’s a weird feeling, wanting them there, wanting them to fall in love with what you’ve prepared for them, and yet at the same time feeling a little violated. I didn’t feel it so much during the first two showings when we were out running errands, but this time I felt the whole gamut of excitement and unsettledness because I kept spying peeking checking from the shelter of the twisty slide. Which, now that I think of it, isn’t really isn’t that unfamiliar of a feeling as an introvert.

(Quick aside: I have a book signing in Anchorage soon, and I anticipate some of these same feelings. Barnes and Noble is sorely lacking in twisty slides to hide behind, though, so I’ll be brave and do my best to appear well-adjusted and sociable. I would love, love, love to see you there, and I promise not to hide under the table even once. )

After forty minutes the strange cars left. Once home, I threw the hermits back in the oven, determined to eat enough of them to ruin my dinner.

They take all of ten minutes to throw together and 17 minutes to bake. I’ll give you the recipe and they’re worth making as soon as possible even if you’re not trying to coax people into buying your house. This isn’t official, fancy, or fussy; there’s no sifting, separating eggs, etc., though you could do any of those if you really enjoy that sort of thing. This is how I make them, quick and dirty, and it’s as foodie as I’ll get. Promise.

In a medium bowl, mix 1 ½ cups brown sugar, 2/3 cup olive oil, ¼ cup molasses, 2 eggs, 2 ½ cups flour, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and The Magical Ingredients: 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Grab hold of the counter and refrain from swooning. Some recipes call for raisins, walnuts, or currants, but I love my family and leave those out.

Now is a good time to preheat your oven to 350. Fahrenheit. You knew that, though.

Once you’ve mashed everything together with a rubber spatula, the results will be more like bread dough than brownie batter, and you’ll need to plop it into a greased 9×13 baking pan and use that spatula to spread it out in a thinnish layer.

Throw it in the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes. Once they’re cool enough to eat without burning yourself, devour at least half the pan while your kids aren’t looking and ruin your dinner like I did. No shame.

That night our Realtor texted me. She said the family loved the house but they thought it was too small for them. And I confess I responded with some thoughts that were rather, uh…expletivey…as I thought of our baker’s dozen of humans and animals, and longed for a little more space, too.

We’re keeping the house sterile (mostly) and I am exhausted. The adrenaline rush has worn off. While part of me is loving the minimalist white space around here, the other part of me wants to fling laundry all over the floor and leave dirty dishes in the sink to ferment.

But not tonight. We have another showing tomorrow, so I’m back to mercenary baking. It’ll probably be hermits again, because how can you not love a treat that shares its name with extreme introverts? But this time I’ll remember to clean the oven first.

#highlights: just the funnies from 2016

We’re starting off the year with a serious dose of silliness. Grab your coffee and enjoy.

hashtag highlights: just the funnies from 2016 at Copperlight Wood

a summary of our 2016 

I’m no real estate expert, but never once in the last two years of avid househunting have I thought, “Wow, this is what we’ve been dreaming of!” by listings that include a reference to “great location for a marijuana business” or a close-up photo of moose nuggets.

Super productive night: Finished edits on Upside Down to send back to the publisher, and moved on to researching Han Solo’s Myers-Briggs personality type. #intjsarenerds #sendhelp

Been sick for a week. It started at the Cannot Operate Heavy Machinery level but rapidly declined to Cannot Operate Paper Clips. Urgent Care has informed me that the fancy name for this is pneumonia.

Turns out that if you’re sick for a month and never leave the house, your garden bed magically transforms into a chia pet.

I just heard a pastor promise his new congregation that he will never make them turn to their neighbor to tell them something. And this, my friends, is how you win elections.  #campaignpromises #hankiewave

Many emails and phone calls back and forth with the publisher today. We established the keywords for the book: adoption, parenting, foster care, special needs, and attachment. Also established the keywords for marketing it: arm & leg, lifeblood, second mortgage, mainstream media, longterm counseling, and prozac. #fixitJesus


kids are brilliant

Cat reproduction according to Chamberlain, age six: “Mama cats never have just one baby. They always have giblets.”

Finn lets loose ten seconds of ear-splitting happy squeals. Afton leans over and murmurs, “Those are the shrieking eels…

fetch me another ninja turtle


Cham: I wish I could just SEE him instead of talking about him all the time. I wish we could have him over to our house.

Me: Who, Jesus?

Cham: No! TobyMac.

(This is the same girl who asked if her new dress could be considered an ugly Christmas sweater. She also thinks Wesley wears a manbun in The Princess Bride.)


My son brings me the magnesium supplement and reads the label. “Contains no yeast, dairy, soy, egg, wheat, sugar, fructose, preservatives, starch, or artificial color or flavor. Cruelty-free.” He pauses. “Cruelty-free? What does that mean? That it doesn’t taste bad?”

Two hours after the kids bedtime. Or, as they see it, the perfect time to go to the bathroom, take a shower, ask how babies are made, tell about a bad dream they had last week, show off a drawing they made this afternoon, floss their teeth, ask you to check the spelling in their journal, and share a prophetic word of knowledge.

We saw a sweet hospital photo of a mama and her wee bitty premature babies. Cham yells, “Oh! Did she have giblets?!”




[insert quiet narrator’s voice, preferably with British accent]
In today’s episode of ridiculous parenting, a child makes a craft project and bursts into sobs immediately following its completion: “It’s SO ugly! And I was going to give it to my FRIEND! But now it’s too ugly and I CAN’T give it to my friend, so I’ll JUST have to give it to YOU!!”
#ohthanks #itslovely

The hero-husband painted an old ugly dresser white for me, then asked if I wanted to distress it. I reminded him that we have seven kids. We decided to just let nature take its course.

Dear Matanuska Electric Association: I’m sorry, but I cannot vote in the upcoming election because I used your ballot to smash a spider into oblivion. Our family truly appreciates this service you have performed for our community.

Afton just caught Finnegan dipping his toast in my 3-shot Americano, eating it, and liking it. Let the mutant superpowers commence. #avengersassemble

Child is disrespectful. Child earns a bazillion extra chores. Child is sent outside to wash all the windows. Child refuses and prefers to sulk instead. After several minutes, child complies and goes outside. It immediately commences to rain buckets, because God loves me.

The kids are practicing Spanish on the computer, and one of them keeps saying “Buenas nachos” instead of “Buenas noches.” Same thing though, right? #soundsgoodtome #muybien

Don’t tell my tomato-haters, but I’m not above chopping up a red bell pepper in front of them while cooking dinner and letting them jump to conclusions about the pasta sauce.

…and speaking of food…

10:32pm: We decide to live on the edge and fry cheese in the waffle iron. What could go wrong? We need to buy a new waffle iron anyway.

10:33pm: Sizzling. So far so good.

10:34pm: I lift the lid to check and behold utter chaos of every dairy nightmare imaginable. Goo everywhere, burning, running over the sides, and Vince has mysteriously disappeared somewhere in the vicinity of the garage. I yell “Pat Sajak!” so the kids who are still awake don’t know I’m swearing and mentally write hatemail to the foodie blogger while scraping cheese off the griddle.

10:36pm: We try it. Not too bad. Recommence frying cheese now that the waffle iron is “properly seasoned.”

10:39pm: Round two is iffy. A little better but still not nearly what the foodie blogger’s perfect photography promised. We try one more time.

10:40pm: Vince decides the cheese slices need to be a little thicker. He slices, breads them, and inserts them into the waffle iron. While my back is turned, HE LEAVES THE ROOM. Quietly.

10:42pm: Round three explodes out the sides of the waffle iron and Vince is nowhere to be found. We assume he is driving to Sears to see if there are any waffle irons on sale that come packaged with Ghiradelli chocolate and flowers.

bingley apron

The recipe for these brownies says, “Cut them into quite small pieces, almost like fudge.” Whatever. I just blew through these like a hobbit with elvish waybread. #chocolatelembas

Daydreaming while chopping mushrooms, garlic, and onions.
Pondering cooking shows while adding chicken thighs to skillet.
Considering taking a photo of dinner-in-progress (in spite of Vin’s disdain of such photos) while adding tomatoes and coconut milk.
Wondering why the chicken is so slow to brown.
Checking the burner to turn up the heat only to realize that the burner is still off.
And this, friends, is why I do not write a foodie blog.



God calls us to do things we’re not naturally qualified for. This is why we have to do things like change diapers, which is an aerobic activity akin to chasing down a baby kangaroo after it’s had an espresso.

Feeling super Alaskan today; sharpened my eyeliner with a pocketknife. #geterdone

You think it’s hopeless, it can’t be done – but then you do it. I’m not talking about life goals or big dreams; I’m talking about nine people and three cats going the whole day with less than two rolls of toilet paper. Oh, yes we did.


alphabet soup

alphabet soup: yielding control and simplifying while homeschooling/preschooling special needs kids

There are no regimented minute-by-minute agendas here. Just a loose schedule with firm standards, attempting to run a tight ship in choppy waters. It’s a little nuts.

I’m learning a lot about not being in control…about doing things differently than we’re used to.

It’s not an overnight process for me; there’s lots of trial and error for this detail-oriented INTJ. As other things speed up and complicate in life, other things have had to slow down and simplify…and my conversion from Type A to Type B is still in the highly experimental beta stage. 

alphabet soup: yielding control and simplifying while homeschooling/preschooling special needs kids

But there’s progress: I broke up with Martha. Her photos are gorgeous, her style is impressive, but I think meals categorized as “quick and simple dinners” should require less than 35 steps, 2 food processors, and a therapist. 

alphabet soup: yielding control and simplifying while homeschooling/preschooling special needs kids

When I actually make myself a lunch instead of just microwaving leftovers, it’s pretty simple fare. Veggies, toast, an egg…nothing fancy. But I crowd the mushrooms and can only take a couple of photos of the process before I make a mess and wreck the egg, thereby reminding myself why I write about peace in sentence fragments and stick to making coffee, leaving the world of food blogging to the capable hands of Joy the Baker.

alphabet soup: yielding control and simplifying while homeschooling/preschooling special needs kids

We do school differently now. After teaching three kids to read by age six, teaching preschool to our 8-year-olds who are learning letters and sounds and shapes with our four-year-old is new territory for me.

Writing was a trying business to Charley, who seemed to have no natural power over a pen, but in whose hand every pen appeared to become perversely animated, and to go wrong and crooked, and to stop, and splash, and sidle into corners, like a saddle-donkey.

– Charles Dickens, Bleak House

alphabet soup: yielding control and simplifying while homeschooling/preschooling special needs kids alphabet soup: yielding control and simplifying while homeschooling/preschooling special needs kids

The milestones are different, the challenges are different, and my involvement with them is different than it has been with any of our other kids.

Sensory issues. Institutional autism. Trauma. Attachment issues. Fetal alcohol spectrum.

alphabet soup: yielding control and simplifying while homeschooling/preschooling special needs kidsIMG_5421ship at harborphoto courtesy of Unchained

Or, commonly abbreviated: SPD, IA, PTSD, RAD, and FAS. It’s quite a cocktail, made more complex by the fact that some conditions are typically dealt with in ways that are counter-productive to others. For example, with attachment issues, you do ABC, and never, ever do XYZ…but with FAS, you usually do XYZ because ABC doesn’t even apply. Awesome.

And for a child who has both, and more? Fortunately, we have 20 more letters of the alphabet to tinker with in trial and error. Nothing fancy, try not to make a mess, and for crying out loud, don’t wreck the egg. Priorities.

Which means I’m letting go. Teaching Andrey and Reagan in the normal way usually becomes a mutinous game of manipulation – if I point to a red circle and ask them what it is, they’re just as likely to give me the wrong answer on purpose (“yellow square”) as they are to give me the right answer on accident.

 So preschool, for now, is sneaky. 

It looks like me teaching Chamberlain while they are playing nearby or looking at a book.

In reality though, they’re eavesdropping. They’re watching closely, listening in, often pretending not to. And they’re learning, in spite of the alphabet soup of diagnoses they might be labelled with

Sometimes they join us to play with letters and numbers and such. I’m learning to haul up the anchor and move on after just a few minutes while they’re still cooperating – if I don’t, three seconds later there is testing, manipulation, and mutiny, and we’re sucked into the vortex again.

Keep it short, keep it happy, keep it simple. And then change course, before it’s too late.  


We write letters on little sticky notes. We write letters on the windows with dry erase markers, and then cover them with the matching sticky notes.

We write big letters in glue, and cover them with tiny pieces of torn paper (learning letters + sensory play + motor skills = big win).

We color and scribble and fill up notebooks with lines and curves that often don’t make sense. And assessment doesn’t come in questions and answers – it comes in the turning of the tables, when we eavesdrop on their play and conversations with each other.

Do they know colors? Heck yes – just listen to them argue over lego pieces. Can they count? Depends on who’s asking – but listening to them play Hide and Seek reveals quite a bit. There’s progress, and the simplicity keeps me sane.

Of her childhood, Helen says herself that, save for a few impressions, “the shadows of the prison-house” enveloped it. But there were always roses, and she had the sense of smell; and there was love – but she was not loving then. When she was seven Miss Sullivan came to her. This lady had herself been blind for some years…


It is not too much to say that imprisoned and desolate child entered upon such a large inheritance of thought and knowledge, of gladness and vision, as few of us of the seeing and hearing world attain to.

Like all great discoveries, this, of a soul, was in all its steps marked by simplicity.

– Charlotte Mason, vol. 1, Home Education

I need Him to remind me often about why they choose to stay in the dark, and why He chose us to be their family. This lady had herself been blind for some years…


Learning is not merely the two-way street of give and take between teacher and student anymore.

It’s an ocean to navigate, and the familiar constellations are upside down in this new hemisphere, along with new ones we’ve never seen before. We yield to the Captain who calms the storm…and there’s fresh coffee in the galley.

hold it high

hold it high

Throughout my adult life there is one thing I have heard women rave about, claiming that it has changed their lives forever. Moms, in particular, sing its praises high and low. There are entire blogs devoted to the subject, and Pinterest is perfectly slathered with information on how to tap into its life-enhancing benefits.

I’m speaking of – you may drumroll now, if you’d like – The Amazing, The Miraculous, The Inexplicably Marvelous Phenomenon known as…

The crock pot.

And yet, I’ve been in the dark all this time. Never used it. Wasn’t really interested.  I don’t care for gadgets and extra appliances – we have a KitchenAid that I rarely use because the thing weighs almost as much as I do. But women everywhere raved, “Just throw your ingredients in, and dinner magically appears several hours later!”

So sometime after having six kids I decided that, maybe, I could use a little more magic in the culinary area of my life. Sold!

I chopped, I tossed in ingredients, I put the lid on. This is going to be awesome, I thought.

Except it wasn’t. A little investigation confirmed that it probably does work perfectly…unless…

You forget to turn it on. Whatever. For some reason, that plugging-it-in part is really, crucially, super important. Blankety-blank.

hold it high

I don’t really need magic, anyway. What I need is some quiet, focused attention so I can see what needs to be done and then just do it, without being overwhelmed with the other 38 things I feel like I should also be doing in that very moment.

Also, a housekeeper would be nice.

hold it high (Copperlight Wood)

But I have this list here with me and we stand right at the doorway of opportunity. At the threshold of whatever this newness is, a little blinded by the light shining through and not really sure what it looks like on the other side. Not really sure what to do.

“Oh, the fool!” groaned the Hermit. “Poor, brave little fool. He knows nothing about this work. He’s making no use at all of his shield. His whole side’s exposed. He hasn’t the faintest idea what to do with his sword.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy

So I hesitate at the passage. There is a quavering in my gut, immediately followed by a zinging sound, and I duck. That was a close one.

Not everyone wants us to walk through the door. There’s greatness beyond and an enemy who doesn’t want us to go there. Arrows are flying – words from others, words in my head, situations that seem less than ideal and more than a little impossible at times – and I’m still putting salve on a few spots where they hit their mark over the last few years and had to be yanked out, raw and bleeding. This stuff can be messy.

But He’s right there at the passage with me. You don’t have to duck, you know, He says.

Really? I straighten up, a little sheepish. (Did anyone see that?)

You have what you need to walk through safely, He says. You just have to remember how to operate it.

The crockpot does nothing when it’s turned off. Neither does my faith when I waver.

hold it high (Copperlight Wood)

 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.

Ephesians 6:16

I’ve given you a picture of the victory. Hold it high.

That faith – that vision, picturing the victory that He has ahead – is my shield. It covers and protects my family and our marriage. And it is really, crucially, super-important.

Hold it high, He says. And don’t hesitate when I tell you to move.

wait and listen from Copperlight Wood

*This is day nine of the Wait and Listen series. The other posts are here.

PS – That top picture? Cooked apples, walnuts, and feta. No crock pot necessary.

in the middle of the mess

Two fillets of cold cooked salmon are in front of me. A bowl of cold mashed potatoes and a few eggs are waiting to join the party. Most of us are finishing school for the day and I’m prepping dinner, fielding questions about fish from one child and questions about subtraction from another.

I’m flaking apart the salmon, pulling out tiny elusive bones. There’s a little pile of them on the counter.

Cham is next to me, supervising. “What are you doing? What is that? Why are you doing it that way?” She’s four…as if you couldn’t tell.

in the middle of the mess, from Copperlight Wood

“Are dose the fishes bones? What are you gonna do wif ‘em?” My sleeve starts to slip down, and both of my hands are a mess. I swipe my arm against my hip to pull it back up.

Her sister is having woes with a math problem at the table. “Mom, can you look at this?” And I look…across the room at her, and then the project in front of me, and back at her.

My eyebrows are clearly saying, Are you serious? but my voice is saying, “Maybe if you bring it here…”

I mix in the mashed potatoes and some flour, and explain how to borrow from 6000 to subtract 4536. Throw in a few eggs.

This is no job for a spatula, and my hands go right in, mixing everything together.

The peanut gallery is still watching me, swinging her feet from the barstool.

in the middle of the mess, from Copperlight Wood

“Your hands are slimy.” She’s right. Gelatinous goo from cold fish oil is almost up to my elbows and I pull my sleeve back up with my teeth.

She slides off the barstool and goes to a cabinet. “Are you gonna use dis?”

“Nope, we don’t put cocoa in salmon patties.”

Another cabinet. “Do you want the big pot?”

“Nope, I’m going to use this pan. Thanks, though.” Cutie.

But it’s time. Mama needs a break from it so we can get some work done.

“Watch out!” I wave my slime-covered hands at her. “I’ll get you!” She shrieks and leaves…for a few minutes, at least.

She wants to help and it’s adorable. She’s not trying to give me advice or run the show. She’s just trying to be with me in the middle of it. She would plunge her hands in the mess with me in a heartbeat if I gave her the chance.

Wouldn’t it be nice if that were always the case?

in the middle of the mess, from Copperlight Wood

We make big life choices sometimes. We change plans for the better, out of our comfort zone. God’s current moves us out of the stream of the status quo and into a new ministry or career. We get our hands dirty in a deeper calling.

It’s awesome until people start questioning our sanity.  “What are you doing? What is that? Why are you doing it that way?” 

You might start wearing exoskeleton underwear with a cape, or packing a gun with you at all times or something.

Someone calls an intervention.

You have no idea what you’re doing. Please tell me you haven’t bought a pair of shiny red knee-high boots and a gold tiara in the last six months. We’re going to have to search your closet for bustiers, hot pants, and spandex leggings.

Suddenly our ability to make choices as independent, successful adults is called into question. We hear about the gossip and conjecture behind our backs. We get the nosy questions to our face.

Yep, you. I know all about it, friend. You decided to adopt…again…or have kids…again… or to move…or to change course.

You decided to go deeper. You’re making some big changes.

You radical, you.

You had the nerve to go out of your comfort zone. And it made the people around you…uncomfortable.

Sometimes it’s the smallest of things that bring busybodies out of the woodwork. Recently after much prayer and counsel, we made changes to some of our accounts. It was really just some routine maintenance that needs to happen every few years, no biggie.

A few days later when we were in the middle of making breakfast, a presumptuous 20-something emissary from an insurance company knocked on our door without an appointment and tried to insert herself into our morning because she didn’t want us to make any “hasty, uninformed decisions” about our future. 

She apparently missed my last three posts on boundaries. Tsk, tsk.

No problem – Vince gave her a crash course in less than three minutes and informed her in a few words that the only hasty choice we were making was to make her our former agent. Cheers. We’ve got work to do and six hungry kiddos waiting for eggs and sausage.

Our hands are in the dirt and people who wouldn’t touch the mess with a six-foot spatula don’t hesitate to start making their general observations known. Armchair quarterbacks pitch their advice, emailing articles and suggesting books. And we think, Those sound marvelous. If I wasn’t already in the trenches, I might have the luxury of reading them. Thanks.

We’re in the middle of it, up to our elbows. Our hands are dirty. This is not the time for critics in the peanut gallery to shout their questions and advice, or for Captain Obvious to express his carefully worded observations.

You’re not looking for suggestions from those with polished shoes and perfect hair. I don’t need any of the wisdom that daytime talk shows can offer. We need comrades to partner with us, bringing a shovel…or just an extra cup of coffee. To have our back.

in the middle of the mess, from Copperlight Wood

So, friends: I love the dirty work you’re doing. You can do this. It might smell funny for a while, but it’s going to be amazing.

People with grit under their fingernails, unite. High five. It’s messy right now, but we’re on a mission and we’re not finished yet.

And the others? We will wave our slimy hands at them…and send them off shrieking. We have work to do.

in the middle of the mess, from Copperlight Wood