Beautiful redemption

It’s been almost three weeks and I can just now sit down to put words to this story.  Sometimes it takes time to digest something enough to put it to paper.

They bounded in the back door from camping, my three sons, the first Saturday in August.  It had been quiet without their boisterous selves for nearly 24 hours.  But they’d had a mission: Daddy Cousin Campout 2014.  It was the third year running and not to be missed.  The first night was all boys (our three and my sisters’ one) and the second was a trade, all the girls (our two and my sisters’ one).

The first words out of their mouth in the kitchen were loud and crashed over me.  Something about a train and Caleb and running and Finn screaming.  I told them that wasn’t funny, not to joke about it but they assured me it was no joke.  I looked to the Daddy for confirmation that they were indeed serious and he nodded yes, that he had waited until they were home to tell me and that it wasn’t something to share over text or phone.

There was a flurry of activity and the girls were whisked away for their adventure and I was left with my boys.  Tired and dirty and eager to tell the story.  Over and over again.  Like their little minds needed to say it out loud to process the reality of it.  I sat down and gave them my full attention as they relayed the story.

They’d arrived at camp the night before.  The two dads set up the tent and the boys asked for coins to put on the train tracks they’d discovered near their camp site.  They said yes and the boys went to place the pennies on the tracks.  While they were there, Caleb “looked up and saw three lights coming” so he hollered for them to run down the rocky slope to the trees.  The train approach was around a bend, so the sound from afar to warn of its impending arrival was buffered until it was very close.

The three oldest boys ran down the slope away from the tracks.  The conductor saw my children immediately and started blowing the whistle to clear the tracks, to run.  Which they were doing, except for Finn.  He was scared spitless.  He was paralyzed with fear.  He stood there screaming while the other three boys ran.  When Caleb reached the bottom, he looked up to see his brother at the track.  Without hesitation he ran back up the little hill and grabbed 37 pound three year old Finn and toted him down the rocks.  He only made it halfway down before the train was upon them, so he stopped and they hid under a large rock until it passed.  That’s when the daddies arrived.  They’d come running in an instant when they heard the whistle.

But the stark clear reality was that if Caleb had not moved so swiftly, so bravely…the result could have been catastrophic.

As each day passed they processed a bit more, Caleb told me days later “You know what is so strange mom?  When I picked up Finn, he felt light, like holding a baby.  And usually he is so heavy we can barely lift him!”.  I cried as I explained how God does that, gives strength or ability beyond explanation in certain situations.

Finn would wake up and go to sleep wanting to tell the story, the same succinct unchanging story each time.  How Caleb saw him, how Caleb ran up the hill, how the train was so loud, how scared he was and how they hid under the rock.

Last week Caleb came down stairs well after bed time, to find me in the kitchen an hour after I’d gone to bed.  He asked why I couldn’t sleep.  I told him the honest truth that every night when I laid down I replayed the whole event in my mind and then it would take me hours to go to sleep.  His lip quivered as he listened to me tell him again, “thank you for saving Finn”.  And we stood in the kitchen wrapped up in a big hug weeping for a very long while.

I am proud of my son.  The same son who a year ago nearly to the day made one poor judgment call and stabbed a steak knife into the grass after dinner just to see how far it would go.  A decision that would cost him dearly.  The tendon severed in his finger which would require hours of surgery to repair…“it’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube” the surgeon said.   A cast from fingertip to shoulder for the last precious weeks of summer, including the state fair and the first month of school.  It was months of a sort of sad frustration that he wore, knowing exactly how he’d wound up where he was.  It was days of him getting the mail and seeing bill after bill and asking “is this from my surgery too?”.  I can’t honestly put words to how it broke him, the whole thing.  It was devastating and he felt the weight of it so deeply.  It took a solid six months before he began to find his way forward.

The beautiful, stunning redemptive nature of it all was not lost on me.  As I told the story to a friend and we choked tears through the phone she whispered it’s almost exactly a year after his surgery.  And it was.  We don’t get the luxury of being privy to the secret ways of God.  We don’t get to know how he plans to work and shape and rescue us.  We simply get a choice.  To trust who he is and to believe he will work all things for good.

Like my mom did, when she heard our husbands were taking the kids camping at this particular campground.  She and my dad had scoped it out three years ago for a potential family camping trip.  They quickly deemed it unfit for a bunch of small kids.  But we didn’t know that, we simply ended up camping elsewhere that year.  So when she got word about the campground selection, she went to the Lord in prayer, asked him what to do before telling us it wasn’t a good choice.  He simply directed her to pray.  And pray she did.  She prayed her grandma heart out as our kids headed out for their weekend.  She prayed fervently for God’s protection and silently believed that the God she loved would watch over her precious grandchildren.

He did.  And in so doing, he gave our son this story that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.  A story of courage and bravery and heroism really, in my book at least.  A story that I will not forget, nor will my children forget, ever.

 

Pressing on

She picks pieces of clover and sits while I talk.  Her wordless tears had told me that all she wanted was to stand at the fence next to the goats.  So I set her there and turn over a water bucket and sit down.  As she chews grass I pour out my full, raw heart.  Earlier today, when I looked at the calendar my heart started to panic.  I’m not prone to panic.  Or worry.  But it feels like suddenly two thirds of summer is gone and I don’t know what happened.  Well, I do.  June happened – septic pump failure/back up, ruined floors, repairs and the week at a motel and so on.  Life happened.

There are so many moving parts and so much love and much talking and bursting LIFE in this home.  Every day.  And the sum total of laundry and hungry tummies and shoes left everywhere, its staggering some days.  But those are superficial, really.  It’s the deeper things that I’m spilling out with quiet tears on the lawn next to the pasture at dusk.  It’s a quiet prayer for peace.  It’s a plea for wisdom for hard choices.  It’s a tender request that says please take care of my heart. 

New things are on the horizon for our homeschool plans and schedule for fall.  And there are areas of life that aren’t working well and need a course correction.   But new is hard.  With a half a dozen kids in the mix, two of whom have required great lengths of attention this past year, it is easy to feel daunted.  Even for me who usually feels courageous and optimistic.

I say it all out loud again, as she plays in the grass.  She watches a bumble bee and reaches toward it as it escapes her chubby, too-slow fingers.  She fingers the clover again and does what she does most of the time…

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She smiles at me while holding my leg.  Her life is simple and marvelous and her every need is met.  She abides in love, she is covered with love from every angle.  All the time.  And my heart catches a bit just thinking about it.  The sibling issues and family challenges, I could probably sum up a good deal of the root of them in that one thought.  Not abiding in love for one another.  And the sting that comes quickly is, I see my part in it.  My weary heart that’s stood up under much heartache and struggle this past year.  A heart that hasn’t always been able to abide in love the way I’d like.  The mama sets the tone for the home, at least for the bulk of the days when most of our day together is spent with me at the helm.

No matter how far we get, we aren’t “there”.  No matter how much we grow and change, we’re not done.  Thank goodness.  But in certain seasons, it can feel discouraging.  I read this tonight on the front porch in the dark and said out loud “YES” as it resonates so deeply as to the bigger picture at hand:

Thank God for everything up to this point, but do not stop here.  Press on into the deep things of God.  Insist upon tasting the profounder mysteries of redemption.  Keep your feet on the ground, but let your heart soar as high as it will.  Refuse to be average or to surrender to the chill of your spiritual environment. – A. W. Tozer “The Root of the Righteous”

I’ve struggled to welcome the God I love into this imperfect and sometimes chaotic place this year.  I’ve wanted to come in an orderly fashion, quiet and early with perfectly brewed coffee and a warm blanket.  The season hasn’t been very orderly and certainly not quiet.  There has been much coffee but not sipped slowly during prayer, gulped instead before it was cold so that I could see straight enough to make breakfast.

God doesn’t want orderly.  He just wants everything.  He wants all of my heart.   It’s okay if I come with hair that’s still in yesterdays’ pony tail, teeth that aren’t brushed and a to-do list twenty things long and a heart that feels defeated or not enough.  He wants me to remember this truth in the darkest, longest day:

Not since Adam first stood up on the earth has God failed a single man or woman who trusted him.  -A. W. Tozer “The Root of the Righteous”

He hasn’t.  And I know this.  So when I wonder how to move forward, when I ask what can give so I can gain a little bit of margin in my life, when I dare to hope for breatkthrough in the places I need it desperately and wonder how we’ll all fare at something new this year…He wants me to remember.

He has never failed me.  He is always (more than) enough.

 

 

Garden confessions

The truth is, I dabbled this year, in gardening.  I dipped my toes in the water.  I requested that the hubby teach me how to use the power saw and the driver and all that neat stuff.  I built raised beds for the garden out of cheap fence posts.   I grew gads of snap peas, enough to keep us happy but they took over the bed so much that they shaded the beets and that was rude of them.  Next time they need more space.  I grew lettuce until one morning I came out and someone ate ALL of it.  In one night.  Someone also ate (or picked) all the zuchinni flowers, so I have big lovely leaves and no flowers = no veggies.  Uncool.  After killing every single cucumber start that I’d lovingly begun in the house, I planted starts from the local nursery.  They are going gangbusters as are the tomatoes.  When both are ready, we’ll be so set for veggies for a good many days.

I built a really awesome, stackable potato planter box and only managed to grow this in it:

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Turns out when you leave your seed potatoes in the garage, never plant them at all, you don’t grow potatoes.  Shoot.  Fail on potatoes.  Next year, try again.

Next, turns out having two sets of kids to care for, bottle feed, love on…it all trumps gardening.  And it is a notable amount of work, especially when doing it for the first time.  While we’ve had goats for over two years, this was our first time raising brand new babies.

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(this is my darling cousin Kelsey who goes to university nearby after living on the other side of the country all her life – its super cool to have her around – she is one of those amazing people who relates delightfully to both adults and children of all ages….my aunt and uncle raised three exceptional girls, we can only hope to do so well)

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If Liberty is outside and near the goats but not WITH them, she will cry.  She adores them.  I however, do not adore goat first aid.  Above is my best attempt at wrapping a profusely bleeding head after Samson opened up his little horn buds (they had been burned off, and were healing).

Carrots did well, but they were a token item and all the kids know they have to ask first before eating one from the garden.  Not nearly enough of them.  Still buying bags of carrots from the store to feed this crew.

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All the berries in the berry patch?  Hmmm, I don’t think you want to know.  Its a sad story.  It involves chickens and deer and goats and dogs and kids and no fencing and not enough water.  Very sad.  That was my most expensive loss/mistake this year.  Lessons learned, all good.

And when we’re not in the dirt, we do clean up every now and then and go out like we did for Father’s Day…

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Let there be berries

First there were strawberries…

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And then two short weeks later there were the raspberries…

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And then just a couple weeks later there were blueberries, which were the best because by this point she could stand up and hold branches and actually pick then eat the berries.  If only she knew her colors…green berries don’t taste so good…but this trip proved the least messy.  Especially for Finn who wanted to sit in the(baby) stroller instead of pick.

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Berry picking is one on our favorite summer fun things – we get to indulge while we pick and there isn’t one in our clan that doesn’t adore a sweet summer berry!  We often compete (nicely) as to who can pick the most berries in 30 minutes.

 

Impromptu adventures

Possibly the best kind…I texted her early, inquiring if she was up for a quick berry picking stop and then a walk at the park nearby.  The perk of having a baby that’s up before 7 am is I’m on my second cup of coffee and am scheming up something fun before some of my friends are awake!  We had such a delightful day, us and our collective 11 children.  No one wanted to go home…

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The Tolt River suspension bridge – as impressive as I remember it from my childhood!

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our combined crew

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girl time – these two talked non stop on those rocks for over two hours!

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boy time – “please don’t throw mud at me again”  or  “that’s my rock”

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he was intent on building a dam like the big brothers

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this little girl loved raspberries…and dirt too

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she also loved her hours long nap in the bushes where we tucked her in a shady spot by the river while the other kids played

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not much unsettles Finn, but the sway of the bridge did and big brother Caleb was very quick to take his hand and walk him across

Hay!

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A friend from church recently harvested his second cutting of hay.  We drive by his field every single time we go anywhere.  And every time, Phineas scopes the field out for his icon Farmer Jared.  He graciously let our three oldest drive the tractor down and back a row “tedding” to help the hay dry.  The two youngers got to sit on his lap.  It was an unexpected summer highlight for sure!

Coming to terms

I’d intended to write a cute post about how we came around to renaming our blog “A Place For Little Feet”.  About the plethora of little feet that surround our life here, be they animal or human, there are many.  But this post is all I could come up with and it may not be cute but it’s honest and honest is all I have to offer right now….

Last Wednesday found this mama of six in a mess of a kitchen trying to uncover some counter to make lunch for the hungry.  There wasn’t a square inch available.  Of the counter or of the mama.  There were dishes and the various random somethings that inevitably get left out when eight people live in a home together and live a full, big life together.  And there was the heart worn thin from ragged survival-mode days that take more than you think they do.  The cumulative total effect of a year that was harder than the past several on many levels finally coming to be counted.  Like it was time to pay the piper and the debt is always more than you think it is right?

Somehow, I’d been trying to keep up with my five-kid life pace despite having now six.  Trying to fit in, accomplish, DO everything I deemed necessary and good and crucial whilst the reality of the half a dozen sweet things that call me mom was in the clouds and posed no limitations.  Never mind the well-meaning “Well, I guess once you have a few, it really doesn’t make a difference adding more right?”.  Words like that rang in my mind as the months ticked by and I kept doing and kept keeping up with my (many) friends who have two or three children.  I made sure to say yes whenever it was humanly possible and worked hard to make all the moving parts of our life somehow keep moving.

Where things got off course, I don’t really know.  Well, I have some ideas but that really is a whole other post.  Though Liberty is a sweet thing of a baby, has been from Day 1, she is still a person.  She requires attention and care and mental/physical energy.  She is absolutely, unequivocally a profound gift that we are incredibly thankful to have been given and wouldn’t trade for anything.  But to operate without any adjustments when someone new joins the family, is foolish.  No matter how much like super mom you might feel like.   When my wise friend (and mother of eight) up yonder says things like “I just don’t know how you’re keeping up with this pace….” I should do a little inventory and assess just how we are keeping it up.  Instead, we just kept on going.

Until last week when we were one day away from going on vacation and I said I couldn’t go.  Friends, if you get to the point you can’t handle going on vacation (albeit with the entire extended family which, though crazy fun, also requires a certain ability to function) then perhaps you can’t handle your normal life either.  That same day I was in my (disastrously messy) kitchen a woman walked into my backyard.  Not living in a neighborhood but out in the country this was highly unusual.  I looked closer through the window and recognized her from church.  I walked out on the deck and said as calm of a hello as I could muster and asked what she was doing here.  She smiled and said she was here for the meeting, the VBS planning meeting that I’d offered to host.  She walked into my lived in, things-all-over living room and I just tried to keep breathing.  The fact that I was hosting a meeting and hadn’t a clue, was again evidence of the debt and the time had come for some re-evaluating.  She told me how coming in to my house in this condition was like a warm hug, because how often her own house looked the same.  I silently wished I could just have given her an actual, real warm hug instead of endure sitting through the meeting wondering how I was functioning this poorly.

I called my husband at work and told him I could not possibly go on vacation.  He graciously offered to take our five oldest with him and left me at home for a couple of days.  I would join him if I was able.  And I had serious doubts about just what I was able to do.  I had been trying to keep up with too much for too long.  Something had to give.  And the reality was, something had given.  Me.  Every day of the week, every hour of the night, living, breathing, giving.  To a degree that was far beyond was was intended for any person, whether they have six children, a slew of animals and all sorts of people with needs (and brokenness) interwoven into their life…or not.

About at that point, I read this post.  I sat shaking my head at my computer, which I only sit at every few days even, no time to read.  Planned neglect.  It sounded strange, how could neglect be a good thing, but then it all made perfect sense.  I’d said yes to so much good and tried to be faithful to so many great things and needs that I’d missed out on doing the very best things excellently.  My kids paid a price, as did I.  The mom they had two years ago was more focused, more intentional, most aware of her own need and thus more dependent on grace to come through.  The mom and dad they had two years ago did not have their hands in so many different things and they loved each other patiently, kindly.  They did a few things and did them well.

There are so many great things.  But we weren’t created to do them all.  We were made with limitations and needs that God alone can meet.  We were designed each to give and love in certain circles and to learn how to say yes and when to say no.  I do know this, but I absolutely have not practiced it.  The pie was sliced in so many pieces that the ones who matter the most, who are my first calling if my priorities are right, got less than best.  My practical husband who often has short, simple and clear wise answers to life’s challenges heard my heart last week and agreed with my “state of the union” assessment.  And he knew better than to give a quick easy answer.  When a significant course correction is in order, there isn’t a quick and easy five steps today and we’ll be good to go tomorrow sort of way forward.

So, I guess that’s all today, just coming to terms here with the reality of my life with all these little feet.  And its a beautiful reality.  A treasured, blessed one for certain.  One I need to make count every day, in the all the right ways.

The great chicken harvest of 2014

It was a bold endeavour, purchasing 54 day old tiny chicks and expecting them to grow to eating size in twelve weeks.  It felt bold or at the very least presumptious to expect them to turn into food in such a short time.  I had intended for Caleb to help me with the meat bird chores but honestly, I sort of enjoyed the routine of my solitary morning ritual of heading out to the far end of our property with a big bucket of feed and five gallon water buckets to replenish their supply.  Though heavy, the chicken tractors were just light enough for me to move by myself.  The heaving of them across a new patch of grass every morning was good hard work for this mama.  After giving them a new location each morning, I fed them and watered them.  Each tractor held 25 birds and in the last four weeks, they sometimes went through five gallons of water in one day. The rate of consumtion for food and water rather blew me away.  It was so far above and beyond our upcoming flock of layers.  And with the consumption came incredible excrement.  They poop more than you can imagine because they are growing so much.

Here are a few lessions learned now that harvest day has come and gone, in case its helpful for anyone…or simply intriguing for those who think this whole thing seems crazy:

  1. In order to save hatchery shipping costs, we went in with two other families.  We ordered 165 chicks together.  We estimated the feed we would need and also bought that together and had it delivered by the pallet to our home.  Doing these two things together saved at least $200 dollars between our three families.
  2. The other two families (who had done meat birds before) rationed out their food properly and did not run out of food like I did (read my other post, from before butchering day, here).  I on the other hand, was naively amazed how “hungry” they were and just kept feeding them.  This meant buying about 800 lbs more feed part way through raising them.  Which seemed a big bummer and would really increase my cost per pound of raising them.  However, in this particular instance, my ignorance paid tremendous dividends.  When our friends drove up with their birds on harvest day, they were totally shocked at the size of our birds.  They were literally twice the size.
  3. A stainless steel table to do all the evisceration on is invaluable.  I’d planned on using our plastic folding tables from Costco and then just bleaching them well.  But our friend Mike brough a chest high stainless table, probably intended for dressing deer or other game.  Because of its height, we didn’t have to bend over for hours.  AND it was very easy to sanitze/clean.  Which proved excellent.
  4. Using the rented equipment from our county, which included a stand with stainless kill cones, a blood collecting basin, a dunking rack and scalding tank and a defeathering tub, made a potentionally dismal task into sometime inherently doable.  Even for a novice mama with six kids!  Once everyone sort of “fell in” to a task, things moved very quickly.  We processed the first 50 chickens in about two hours and then took lunch.  The second 50 took less than two hours.
  5. Kids can do more than you think.  This is perhaps what most blew me away for the day.  Very early on, several children had proved themselves indispensable.  Caleb and TJ and two adults caught the chickens and put them upside down into the kill cones.
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    The most humane way to harvest a chicken is to place it upside down where it quickly gets a head rush and is fairly still.  Then with a sharp knife, slitting the neck so the blood can drain out swiftly and fully.  Caleb did almost all of that job and he did it very well.  He is ten years old.  I was surprised and very impressed.  Rylee and her friend Elianna rocked the scalding tank and defeatherer.  They would take the chickens from the boys and hook them by feet up to the rack and then dunk them until their feathers were loose enough to go into the defeathering tub.

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  6. Evisceration is more of a grown up job.  If you botch it, you puncture the bowels and then have a poopy mess inside your chicken.  Which is not ideal.  Having a tall table to do this work was extrememly valuable.  And having many hands on the task was also awesome.  It made the work fly by.
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  7. Having a hearty lunch ready and waiting is imperative.  We ate big bowls of chili from the crockpot (thanks Nana!) and went right back to work.
  8. You need more ice than you think!  It was a sunny warm day.  We used all ten bags of ice we got.  Keeping the chickens cold after defeathering before evisceration is important as is keep them cold after they are all done.  We soaked them in a salt, ice water brine all day before packaging them for the freezer.  We don’t have big coolers but used clean, garbage bag lined stainless metal 32 gallon trash cans.  They worked beautifully, just required lots of ice.
  9. Shade would be helpful.  We would have been better off with a white tent over the table where we did the finishing work.  It got warm quickly and though the hose water was cold, it still would be better with shade.  Next year for sure we’ll have a tent over that table.
  10. A vacuum sealer, though the bags are spendy, is super nice for storing the birds.  A two gallon freezer ziploc would work, we used some.  But the vacuum sealed ones, I’m sure, will keep better in the freezer.

All said, it was an amazing day.  We worked super hard and with a great crew of people, it really went very fast.  It was truly easier than we expected.  I was super proud of our kids, they were something else.  At the end of the day we netted 250 lbs of chicken in the freezer.  We traded a few for work.  And cooked a couple right away.  But most of them are in the freezer! After all was said and done, we all agreed we’d definitely like to do it again.  It was very worth the work.  Besides the bit of time feeding them each morning, really it only entailed one long day of work.  Which was quite manageable.

Andrea Laurita Photography

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When people come to our home, one of the first things they comment on is a set of four square canvas prints on our living room wall.  They almost always ask for the story behind them, which I never get tired of sharing.  Our friend Andrea of Andrea Laurita Photography is a talented photo journalist.  She has woven her gifts with the lens into a variety of jobs over the past decade or so, allowing God to use her in all sorts of places and ways.  The four prints we have are of beautiful children in Sierra Leonne, Thailand and Afghanistan.  They are a constant reminder of the world around us, far beyond what we see every day on the farm.  They help me remember.  And if the photos weren’t enough, Andrea used the proceeds from them to help fund a college education from a girl she met in Liberia.

Currently, this darling young friend of ours lives in Portland.  She is spunky and gracious and flexible.  Exactly what I think makes her a fantastic professional photographer.  All the photos you see on our blog, header and side bar, are accredited to her.  And can I just say anyone crazy enough to take on a photo session of a family with six kids is downright brave!  We’ve never been disappointed in her work.  She has wonderfully captured our family several times now.  If you live within a couple hours of Portland and are even considering doing family photos or are getting married or have a new baby, check this girl out!  She is willing to drive to the Seattle area, especially if a few people want to book a session the same week or weekend.

Here are a few favorites from this last session she did for us, which we decided to do at home this time instead of traveling somewhere “photogenic”:

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