blue sky shining over

hippies, hippies everywhere

 reflections from our family trip to the oregon country fair 

we would have been crazy to camp.

we did try. we bought the tent on craigslist, got a great deal on the camp stove, dug out the old tarps (because in the pnw, you just never know). our first weekend away as a family of four, and we were going to spend 4 nights on a 10×10 patch of grass (either meaning for the word “grass” works here) surrounded by tapestries, revelry, pot smoke, and bugs.

2 days before we were due to leave, we booked a hotel room, which was pretty much the best decision ever.

the oregon country fair is one part craft bazaar, one part music festival, one part circus, and packed with hippies of all ages and state of dress (or undress, in some cases). it seems to serve the function of a hazing ritual for oregon’s peacemongering, hippiest left-wingnuts to claim their membership in the tribe of “middle class repressed suburbanites who want to feel edgy for a weekend.”

“hey,” we thought, “that sounds like us.”
so we piled more luggage than i’d like to admit in the back of our rav4 (which, by the way, is not a car that would secure its occupants a place in hippie heaven), drove to eugene, and came away with a few reflections.

daddy and the kids in our hotel room, dressed for fair success.

oregon country fair

first lesson of the weekend: if something that looks like a rock climbing wall and is next to a graveyard, it’s probably a mausoleum. not a rock climbing wall. don’t call it a rock climbing wall; apparently that’s disrespectful. oops.

joel rocks the carrier and the stroller in the parking lot as we head for the middle of the forestIMG_0447IMG_0449

second lesson: if one is not disposed toward relieving oneself in an egregiously named “honey bucket,” one has the option of achieving, through conscientiousness and perfect timing, rock star bladder status. not that one would know from experience.IMG_0460IMG_0458IMG_0456



first things first: diaper changes and snacks in a colorful corner.IMG_0470IMG_0485

the beautiful and the bizarre comingle in small, but well stocked, vendor booths.IMG_0486IMG_0487IMG_0490IMG_0496IMG_0497IMG_0499IMG_0510IMG_0516IMG_0534IMG_0535IMG_0536IMG_0539IMG_0538




lesson four: tie dye is an acquired taste. after spending a few days marinating in it, it starts to look kind of … beautiful.IMG_0509IMG_0494IMG_0500IMG_0541

the art. my word, the art. wherever people weren’t, art was there. fairy gardens and tree-people, huge sculptures and human-sized kaleidoscopes, banners, strange shapes and beautiful designs in every corner. art infused the grounds with vitality, beauty, spirituality, and of course, plenty of photo opps. even the garbage areas were decorated!IMG_0533IMG_0507IMG_0543IMG_0519IMG_0488

there were at least ten stages for music and spoken performances of every kind. the performances weren’t limited to stages, though; wherever there was a few feet of extra room, performers fiddled, knitted, walked about on stilts, led impromptu drum lines, and dressed up as adam and eve, bumblebees, disney princesses, orca whales, fairies … the list goes on.IMG_0532IMG_0514IMG_0548

aerial yogaIMG_0508IMG_0520

this man operated a human powered woodcutting machineIMG_0522 

orca whales diving on the backs of “the ocean” on stilts.IMG_0523

more stilts!IMG_0544


finding our birth years.
strangely enough, the posters reflect our personalities quite well.IMG_0531

pit stopIMG_0550IMG_0553IMG_0556IMG_0560IMG_0565IMG_0574

a certain small human did not want to end the pit stop.IMG_0579IMG_0591

dusty paths = dirty feetIMG_0584

aaaaand, we’re off!IMG_0593

we stopped for an early dinner, and the kids fell asleep by 6:30. having fun is exhausting!IMG_0597IMG_0595IMG_0602

the next morning, ash prepares for the return to the fair with some simple yoga poses. (the “simple yoga pose” in this picture was sustained for about 1.5 seconds.)IMG_0621thunder and lightning and cheering and music and mud and coffee and the last day!IMG_0640IMG_0645IMG_0657IMG_0660IMG_0664IMG_0649

i initially thought, “we won’t fill in all the gaps, but that’s ok. at least we’ll have our family picture!”
until we got home, and uploaded the photos to the computer, and i looked at it and cried. the large peach with the little holes, no doubt moonlighting from its regular job during fall, i’m sure, was made for our little family. our faces poked out from the peachy pink flaps, joel and i smiling, ash shaking his head warily, and aida blowing bubbles. and one face trapped behind that hateful accursed peachy pink flap, somewhere in between us and the peach. some days grief is stark, and some days it is absurd. nevertheless we have our family picture, and its portrayal of our family is more accurate than we had hoped or wanted.
in spite of the surprising moments of grief, it was a happy trip. the last lesson we learned was an intangible one, related to self expression. the beauty of individuality was bright and whole, and yet, even as people made their beauty more pronounced, the extra vulverability revealed the broken inside each dancing swaying laughing face. the biggest question i found myself asking was, “why?” why is that man dressed up like the devil; why is this one dressed up as jesus? does this woman wear wings because she wants to fly; does that one wear little clothes because she wants to accept herself? bodies and souls were bared as each person turned inside out, and placed a profound level of trust in the other 44,999 people there to provide a safe place.
it was overwhelming, and beautiful, and overwhelmingly beautiful. self expression is one tool in the toolbox of individuals fighting their demons, and the struggle is brave. it is radical acceptance of the idea that we aren’t valuable in spite of our brokenness any more than we are valuable because of it. we simply are. there is value in lines of worry underneath a face-painted butterfly, searching eyes behind a devil mask. each person pictured the divine, the image of god decorated with glitter, sporting tutus, cheering for the thunder, and dancing in the dusty path.IMG_0668
they didn’t want to leave, and neither did we. it was a beautiful trip.IMG_0671
the most special part of the fair was finally finding replacements for our nearly-10-years-old wedding rings. we had decided that they don’t really fit our personality anymore, and i was eager to ditch the blood diamonds, so we switched them out for a couple of inexpensive but good quality puzzle rings. a perfect way to end our first family vacation since kids.IMG_0679


nana’s camera



this week, joel’s mom and stepdad visited from san clemente, california. the kids’ nana karen brought her little point-and-shoot, and documented a fun little series of our family life these days. so, as a reintroduction to our family after a year of not blogging, here are the contents of nana’s camera.

en route to the portland farmer’s market
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daddy’s pickled carrots are always a hitkaren's camera 203 karen's camera 206

grandpa richard and aida having breakfast at petite provence

karen's camera 207blink faces for mommy and ash!
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dinner with housemates and friends
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karen's camera 222 karen's camera 224 karen's camera 228
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touring ne mississippi avenue necessitates a stop for ice cream at ruby jewelkaren's camera 233 karen's camera 235 karen's camera 236 karen's camera 238 karen's camera 245 karen's camera 246

sad babies have a solution, and his name is ian. conveniently, he is also our housemate.
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or savannah … who also lives in our house.

karen's camera 249my morning juggling act
karen's camera 251 karen's camera 252a lot of life revolves around medical appointments right now, especially for ash. thankfully, a trip to ohsu’s pediatric sleep clinic provides a lovely opportunity to ride the tram!
karen's camera 258 karen's camera 259 karen's camera 260 karen's camera 261karen's camera 265

aida spends her days inching closer to crawling

karen's camera 262

karen's camera 266she takes a quick break to nurse …
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… and then she’s off again!karen's camera 268 karen's camera 272 karen's camera 277the beautiful ordinary, documented for a week on nana’s camera.


chapter 2

a little over a year ago, i wrote the following post, which broke down into a journal entry, and i did not post it. instead, i stopped writing.


how does one write about the pain of loneliness and alienation?

when god’s silence is the heaviest cross to bear.

when the utter abasement of spiritual confusion is too humble to draw empathy.

when the humanity of a dead baby is devalued by so many microaggressions.

when in a spiritual desert that requires true wandering, and confident voices lead only to oases of mud.

when the poor in spirit are assigned a pair of bootstraps.

when blessed are those who mourn, for they are judged.

when blessed are the meek, for they are trampled under the feet of the confident.

because now we have left the world of the dead, and reentered the world of the living and the happy and the “god has a plan for everything” and everything else that people expect from us. they think they have us “back” now, but you don’t just come ba -

GAH i can’t write because everything hurts, and i can’t weed out the parts to hold back from the parts to share. i don’t have anything to share except confusion, and i don’t know how to share confusion. everything is too fragmented, and i want to put it together but it’s like putting together a 100 piece puzzle with only 38 pieces. it doesn’t make sense and there’s no picture on the box and none of the pieces are adjacent and, what’s more, i’m afraid of being judged for my pathetic broken little puzzle because i already have been.

how do i write a post about the pain of judgment without sounding defensive?

why do i want to write anyway? i can write … i can write this emotional word-vomit blather. i can write short, declarative sentences, most of which begin with “i” and are centered around my relentless feeeeelings. so i can write. i just can’t write what i want to. i just can’t write anything that makes sense of life. i can’t write a piece of art or empathy. if i hurt the right amount, i can turn it into art, but this hurt right now is too much; i can’t harness it or use it.

losing sky was a pure hurt, one that made me whole. this awful mess of lost-relationship-confusion-complication-transformation and worst – the assumption that we’re fine now because ash replaced sky … this is fragmenting hurt. this pain rips apart, takes the pieces of me and throws them into a cloud, obscuring god and others. i lose people and ideas and systems of thought and my train of thought and nothing makes sense and i can’t put humpty dumpty together again by writing about it.

and i don’t want to share this, because giving people the parts of me that are unpolished and shaking with pain and anger is … utter foolishness.

what does “i can write” even look like right now? i don’t know how to write my way through this. i need to be more whole, more honest. but i can’t force wholeness. i was hoping that by writing all of this silliness, then the art and creativity and beauty would eventually start to flow. it hasn’t. i’m right back where i started.

i just can’t be this honest. i can’t be this bare. nobody wants to read this much self-centered darkness. some can write about grief because their souls are light and beautiful and tender and focused. others bring clarity of writing and intellectual creativity. i am empty right now. i don’t have anything to bring except hurt and brokenness, and no pretty words to dress it up. no fancy metaphors to bring comfort to others. no exhortations, and … no happy ending.

having ash didn’t make us whole again. he brings joy into our hurting lives, but we are broken parents to him. our family is built on the pain of loss. we lost sky. ash lost his birth family and culture. we are like survivors of a war. we pick ourselves up, limp to the nearest refugee camp, and make a family from the few hurting people we find there. we found ashal, and he found us, and now we are family. a family born from trauma and pain and making the best of awful situations.

“congratulations, it’s a boy!”

i’m not an author. i’m just a housewife with a blog that is marinated in my own emotional juices and starting to smell putrid.

it stopped there, and i didn’t write for a year. we went through a pregnancy and had a baby. we ended some life chapters, and began writing new ones. life was dark, and light, sometimes in the same day, sometimes at the same time. i include that post because i think differently now, and believe that hurt and brokenness are beautiful, precious gifts to give.

blessed are those who receive the nakedness of others’ hearts, for empathy will be theirs, and through empathy, the whole world.

and i’m ready to write a new chapter. a chapter of tiny and beautiful things, small and sad things, the ephemera of young children, for whom every experience is a microcosm of the universe, and young ideas, which are remarkably similar.

a chapter with a tiny bit more vulnerability than the last one, and a lot of cute pictures.


“welcome to the rest of our life,” he said last week, waltzing through the door on his last day of training. “from now on, i’m only working 3 days per week. my training is done, my schooling is probably done … 5 years pursuing my dream, and now it’s your turn.”

my turn. my turn to be … something. anything. a student and the world’s best wedding photographer and a middle school choir teacher and a writer of books and a mentor to foster kids and a runner and a farmer and a lover of god and people and everything i want to be for the rest of my life.

how often do normal days become the first day of the rest of your life? defining moments dropped like a boulder into a pond, making life unnormal for a while, and then a new normal, until again a new unnormal. and the rest of your life is hard to recognize for a while, and then the grace time slowly creeps in, transforming the new rest of your life into beautiful, wise, painful normal.

when you’re six years old and you sing a lot, and your parents find the best piano teacher they can, and you shyly climb the stairs to her blue and flowered living room, welcome to the rest of your life.

when you put down the last test, essay hand aching, and creep out quietly so as not to disturb others, welcome to the rest of your life.

when it’s dark and cold and sparkling, and you watch the city lights dance on the water, balancing your way along a log with his hand supporting you, and suddenly you’re in his arms and a too-small ring is cutting off the circulation to your knuckle, welcome to the rest of your life.

when your friend holds out a check for a hundred dollars, and you say no, really, i just like taking pictures, and they say take it, you’re amazing, you deserve it, welcome to the rest of your life.

when you dip a piece of plastic into a cup of your own excrement and there are two parallel lines like towers, welcome to the rest of your life.

when the doctor standing over your 9 month swollen belly says i’m so sorry, welcome to the rest of your life.

when it’s monday morning and your adoption worker calls and there’s a baby in florida, do you want him, welcome to the rest of your life.

when god says “let there be light,” and a bright light shines on the god-shaped confusion, the finally honest chaos, welcome to the rest of your life.

when the worst thing happens and you survive, fighting to overcome and winning your self back, welcome to the rest of your life.

when the best thing happens, and it’s actually truly really real, welcome to the rest of your life.

when you try and try and agonize and fume and hide and talk and plead and cry tears of blood in the middle of the night, and then you realize that you can’t control anyone’s actions except your own, welcome to the rest of your life.

when there’s no going back, the bridge is drawn up behind you and the prairie wilderness before you, the paths are many and faint, the wild wind in your hair and on your face and the rain soaking through your clothes and the sun bright and dancing on a faraway hill, welcome to the rest of your life.


oh me, oh my, and oh my goodness. ashal will be 3 months old tomorrow.

what a whirlwind these months have been! for most of this time, joel has been in intensive, long houred job training, we have been music directing beauty and the beast through journey theater, and i have been scrambling to catch up while a ten pound tornado of body fluids and pure emotion tears through our lives and hearts, wreaking delightful havoc and changing the topography of our existence as if it was made of play-dough.

and then the tornado caught a cold.

i have unresponded-to emails from 3 months ago. i have unswept corners of floor from 3 months ago. i have items in the back of the refrigerator from 3 months ago. i have unfinished photo editing from 3 months ago. and i have multitudes of blog post fragments and ideas, some from 3 months ago.

most of the crazy will end within 2 weeks, and i’m more than a little scared of the inventory of emails, dirt, and dropped balls that will need to be taken. i made the mistake of attempting to go through my inbox yesterday, and after 15 minutes, spent the next hour hiding in my room and crying of overwhelmed-ness. of course, the upside will come after all the dropped balls are collected and disposed of (perhaps sent to a ballpit in the great playplace in the sky), and i can tackle each day with a fresh slate and clear conscience.

today is not that day, however, so i leave you with a cute video of ashal and penguin, taken by our dear friends who visited from china a few weeks ago.


is there still a blog here? i was in the middle of a story … wasn’t i?

… cause all i know is that i had a baby, was writing a little story about getting him, and then WHAM, life hit with the force of a semi truck and topsy-turvied things up for a while.

see, right after that amazing thing happened – that thing we’ve been waiting for these past 8 years – another amazing thing happened. something we’ve been working toward for 5 years. joel got a nursing job. the beginnings and process of his nursing journey are a story for another day; it’s a long story of determination, catheters, and perhaps the occasional miracle. he graduated from nursing school in december of 2011 (sky was born the week after his finals), and received his license last march. the job market for new grad nurses is pretty bad in portland, and after 9 months of applying he was getting pretty discouraged.

back in november, he applied for a new graduate job program at salem health hospital, and they set up an interview for him on december 21, only his second interview in the year since he graduated. 2 days before his interview, we found out that we would be picking up our son in florida at the same time his interview was scheduled. he called the hospital, explained the situation, and asked if he had any options. they said no.

disappointment over this was quickly driven from our minds as we cared for our new baby, though, and we returned home from florida optimistic about our new life with joel still working at his old job. several weeks later, salem hospital called back. on the phone, the hiring director asked about the new baby, asked about parenting, asked if joel would like to interview for a position they were unable to fill, and mentioned that, oh by the way, her sibling and cousin were adopted too.

he went in for the interview. the manager asked him about the new baby, went through a normal interview procedure, and at the end mentioned that, oh by the way, she was adopted too.

4 hours later, they offered him the job.

(he thinks ash got him the job. i maintain that he got it because he looks pretty darn fine in scrubs.)

joel nurse in scrubs with stethoscope

at the beginning of february, he started his 8-5, 5 day/week, 7 week training. in salem. (salem is an hour and a half away, bringing his total time away from home each day to about 13-14 hours.) within 2 weeks of that, we started in on music directing our latest show with journey theater arts group, beauty and the beast, with 8 hours of rehearsal per weekend. my photography business picked back up again, and i restarted teaching piano.

… and that’s about when this blog, and a whole heck of life along with it, moved solidly to the back burner. actually, forget the back burner, it moved to the fire pit in the back yard. in the rain.

at the end of joel’s training he will work three 12 hour shifts per week, at night, and we will share parenting responsibilities as we both develop our careers. until then, however, we’re making do.

i’m getting lots of mommy time. while i’m thankful that our chosen lifestyle will involve both of us trading off the role of primary parent as we make room for each others’ career pursuits, there is something so special about these long days of snuggling with my little one, who does not like to be put down and makes that very clear.

i dressed him in his “mommy loves me” onesie yesterday and was reminded that, though these hectic weeks seem to stretch forever, they’ll be over before we know it. a new phase awaits our family in 3 and a half short weeks – one in which we can take hikes together in the middle of the week, i can have back those 14 hour stretches of photo editing and writing that i crave (albeit with a few interruptions), and joel can spend as many happy hours with ashal as he likes. oh, and i can blog again, too. that’s a happy thought.

ashal in mommy loves me onesie

progression | part 5

december 16

to finish our days of mourning rituals, we spent sunday morning writing down things that we missed about sky, and burning them. we first wrote them in the journal in which friends had written thoughts at his memorial service, then on small scraps of paper to burn over a candle.

the intensity of this ritual was heartbreaking, but also heart cleaning. just as sky’s life and body were burned to ashes, our dreams for life with him were also turned to ashes. this gave visual and tangible reality to that loss.

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after this, we had no more rituals. sky’s birthday season was over.

progression | part 4

december 14

we released sky’s ashes just as the blue sky peeked through on his dark and rainy birthday, and left them at the foot of the most beautiful waterfall i know.

a few friends had given us a stay at kah-nee-ta resort, a couple hours from our home, for sky’s birthday. the sun set as we drove through hood river, and as the last light of day fell it started to snow.
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somehow, hitting 25,000 on the odometer reinforced the fact that we had hit a milestone. we stopped to take this picture and walk in the snow.

december 15

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the next morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise.
and sky’s birthday was over.

progression | part 3

december 14

we had to do it alone.

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we were alone when we summoned his body from the earth, and now, alone, we return the sum of our bodies to the earth and water and air and elements.

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these ashes feel hideously indecent, powdered triune nakedness.

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web ready-010i pour into my hand and they slip through my fingers, soft and caressing like a baby’s touch.

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fine like baby powder.
fine like powdered baby.

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i strew my heart and my passion and my future and my body along this river. spiritual and carnal comingle, cold rain and hot tears. the water and ash make mud in my hand, and this is creation. i hold the stuff of adam.

creation and desolation, beginning and end.

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alpha omega is here, in this infinite moment.
distilled and destroyed image of god.
breath and dust.

i breathe. i choke hot dusty sorrow. it is finished.

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but it is also beginning.

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a small seed of rainbow, the root of ash, nestled in the womb, a circular room that circles from beginning to end. sky’s life began and ended here; ash’s life begins … and begins again. old mud is formed into a baby who is not yet powdered, bringing forth order from chaos.

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i have two babies: one knit into order, the other flung into chaos. earth and water and breath course through the baby of order. the baby of chaos is in the earth and air and sky. my sky child, and my ash child.

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a paradox:
my baby who is ash is not called ash, and my baby who is called ash is not yet ash.

web ready-035the beginning and the end curve together into a circle, and binding them in orbit is love.

progression | part 2

this is the story of the days leading up to ash’s adoption, which began during the season of sky’s birthday. the week of sky’s birthday and the week before ash’s adoption, i journaled the following.

december 11, 2012 | finishing

we have to finish what we started. one year ago, we ventured out on the path of the lost year. we knew the name of the path, but we had no other choice. the lost year was awful, the most awful, painful, heart-wrenching and directionless year of our life. i went to school for no other reason than to keep busy, joel applied to nursing jobs and was turned down for each one, we completed the adoption homestudy and didn’t receive a child, we hid in our room and cried and held each other and whispered “this year is lost. we just have to get through.”

we wandered on the path as it went in circles, through deserts and swamps. there were very few streams or pretty views.

oh sky, if you were only here none of this would have happened. if you were here everything would be beautiful; we would love you, and you would be god’s blessed tiny messenger of hope to us. we would love you and hold you and let you teach us your baby ways of seeing the world. if you were here my direction in life would be clear, your father would have a nursing job, and we would be whole and together as a family of three. you would be happy, because we would love you completely. you would have so many people to love you, spoil you, and dote on you. if you were here we would have a christmas tree, and the children’s books would already be worn and well-loved, there would be a swing in the cherry tree and a fence around the yard.

but you’re not, and you never will be. our happiness will never be complete without you. you will never have the chance to grow up as part of our family. and the longer we live without you, the harder i find it to believe that god can ever make this right.

one year since we last knew for sure that you were alive. i’ll never forget the look of total wonder and joy on your father’s face when he heard your heartbeat. you were so beautiful. i miss you terribly.

december 13

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it had been 7 months since we pulled out our precious mementos of sky’s life, and cried at his beauty.

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pictures, gifts, handprints, cards … we have so little from the life of our little one.

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we lit a candle, and slowly turned each page, handled each object, read each card.

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the fear of grief was worse than the grief itself. our hearts, washed clean with tears, softened again.
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our vigil lasted through the night, a shadow memory of that horrible night a year earlier. the candle flickered in the corner, illuminating his angelic face. a face that will never change, never grow, never become lined or weary. frozen in perfection. lifeless.

web ready-069and then the sun rose, and it was his birthday.


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