This Dog

Max just cracks us up…all the time. He’s definitely settled in just fine. He jumps in the shower with Boo. He darts around the house like a maniac. At night he charges like a bull to get under the covers and then throws tantrums in his sleep.



And Diesel is just as cantankerous as ever. He won’t let us take his photo because he thinks he’s getting too old. He is over 100 years now. Almost blind and missing all his teeth. He wants you to remember him in his youth (or until he gets a makeover).

What Hangs in the Balance

Last week I was invited to the Orange Conference by my church. I said yes, not quite knowing what I was even saying yes too.

As I rode in the bus with people to sessions that were off the main campus I constantly got the questions: Are you a youth pastor? What is your role in the church?  My answer was always: well…I’m not in leadership, but I do greet on Sundays!

And one man I sat with on the bus said to me: I’m going to take what you’ve said and turn it around for you. You are in leadership….because you are here.

We both shared the size of our churches…his was huge, thousands of people and mine was: well, I’m not sure but I think I hand out about 62 bulletins each Sunday. So maybe 100 people?

And then I shared with him what made me proud about my church:

The gossip around town is that our church loves people, but that it doesn’t teach the Bible. 

I think that’s the best compliment a church could ever receive…because one visit would show that our church does actually teach the Bible. And you’d know in the first 3 seconds that we love people.

This was one of the quotes that I shared recently on Instagram from the conference:


First of all way too much breaks my heart. But what breaks my heart about the church? When people feel unwelcome or lost. The unloved are the ones who hang in the balance.

And our church loves people.

I invited someone to church last year, mostly because he said that he didn’t agree with the theology of our church. Then he said that he hadn’t stepped foot inside the church since the “hymnals and pews were removed.” So basically he’d never been to our church. (The invitation always still stands.)

Jud Wilhite said this:

No one unchurched cares if your church is missional or attractional.
Just have a heart for those who aren’t there.
We were rescued to be rescuers.

Dang that’s good stuff. Is attractional actually a type of church?

When it comes to theology personally I don’t have to reconcile my religion with my conscience. Nothing is that black and white for me. I live in the questions and lead with love. My friend Debi said in a sermon recently: To get it right is to know that we probably have some of it wrong.  At the conference my pastor was wearing a t-shirt that read: Religion Kills. Yeah, it does…and sometimes just by turning someone away with our judgement and labels.

And I’m always asked: But don’t we need to confront people about their sin? Well, my answer would be no. I’m pretty sure they know their own sins. And no one should ever be singled out. And I have too many questions about sin to ever confront anyone else but myself. I always liken it to being asked to lunch and the conversation starting out with: Ashley, we need to talk about the way you dress.  I might smile and chit chat but I’d secretly be thinking: WHAT-THE-HAM-SANDWICH.

You know who hangs in the balance? Dynamic pastors and their churches who are bringing together the unchurched. With love and encouragement. And without judgement. Youth pastors who are creating environments where kids enjoy coming to church, and making it a safe place for them to be themselves. It breaks my heart when I see people trying to discourage them. Our church pastor recently wrote two articles on love and forgiveness in our local paper. Letters streamed in to “correct” him. Some Christians can be real a-holes when they put their minds to it.

Our church’s gutters are falling off, the thermostat inside has read “BROKEN” for as long as I’ve been there and we only were recently able to purchase new Orange curriculum because of a donation. But our church is known for loving people. Every person is welcomed in. Every kid is fed breakfast on Sunday mornings because they might not have it otherwise. The church has firewood cutting days in the winter to make sure people have heat (people still burn wood for heat here!) There are baby showers to make sure that expectant mothers have the supplies they need. Skateboarders aren’t chased off from the parking lot. People flow through our doors that have never been to church before…because they feel the authenticity and they leave with hope. And they aren’t invisible. Last October, at an event the church held downtown someone said “I don’t go to church, but if I did, I’d go to yours.”

My 90-year-old neighbor visited recently to invite me to her church. When I told her I had already found one she said: oh that’s so wonderful you’ve found a place. I’m so happy for you. She was just wondering if I needed a community. When I tell people I go to The Grove I love seeing what their reaction is.  I mean, there’s not always a reaction, but the most amusing responses have been:

The Grove doesn’t really count as church. It’s church-light. 
That’s the church they took all the pews out of right?

I hope if there’s gossip about me it’s that I love people. 

And I’d also be okay with:
She doesn’t really count as a Christian. 
That’s the girl that has all the gay friends.
She’s the one that hangs out with all the wrong people.
She has a past. 

She’s a little bit of a lost soul, all over the place.
She writes blog posts in incomplete thoughts. 




P.S. Sorry all the formatting on the blog is out of whack. Undergoing a little construction.




It feels all too normal to hear of tension among women.  When we gather together it seems emotion, drama, tension, hurts and expectations just supernaturally appear-naturally.

Little girls grow up and change and mature, pursuing their passions and dreams, discovering who they are, but even among this growth and obtaining of wisdom, the struggle to LOVE and be LOVED by each other, other women that is, exists as a hardship for many.

Why do we withhold love from each other?

Women.  For as beautiful and gracious as we are, we can certainly flip our lids as swift as a second.  It hurts my brain to think of how many regretful words I’ve slung without thought or reflection.  It’s embarrassing to take ownership of those moments that are just the far opposite of God’s heart and His love.  We’ve all been there.

When recently discovering I was headed to the mountains of Guatemala with a team of 10 women and 5 men, my nervous heart had concluded there was just not a chance this was going to turn out with much success.

When tension, emotion, and drama are all heightened with traveling for ten days out of our comfort zones, this was a sure-fire recipe for disaster.  I even asked my small group to be in prayer specifically for the dynamics among the women.  I was in anxiety overload.

Now having been home a few months, I sit and reflect and can hardly write words without tearing up.  These WOMEN, all nine (& myself making ten), every last one of them, brought to the table their full selves, their full hearts, their bravery, empathy and strength, and I am floored with my admission that I was wrong, way wrong.

I watched these women dig deeply, far away from their families and comforts.

I watched these women breathe deeper, taking in the souls and stories of the widows and orphans in the village of Xeputul, GUA.

I watched these women come alive, seeing God in their eyes and smiles.

And I watched these women give and serve and love to no end.

The movement of the Kingdom of God was so tangible I could reach out and touch it and it was ushered in by a seemingly unlikely group of women.

Mission drew us together.  Mission kept us together.  Mission inspired courage and kept the nonsensical drama at bay.


Perhaps, and maybe especially, when we as women, in a society that keeps us bent toward comparison, competition, and cattiness, throw our hands in the middle on mission, we begin to tap into the vision God had for us ALL along.  When we come together for something more grand than ourselves and when we connect our hearts with mission and with purpose, we will get a glimpse of God’s Kingdom showing up here on this earth.

When we come alive, God’s power is visible.  When we come alive together, an eruption of God’s power is visible.  And that’s what this world is longing for.

If in fact you happen to find yourself surrounded by an unusually large group of women, don’t panic, find mission, and watch the movement of the Kingdom of God touch this earth.





We didn’t get much done on the house over the winter with all the snow. So the warm weather has brought new excitement that we can get back to working on the House on Hospital Hill. Any warm day we had over the last few months was used to fix the rotted eaves and fascia board that had succumbed to years of leaking gutters. All of that work had to be done before we put new gutters on the house. Last week we finally got gutters put back on:


We went with 6″ seamless gutters in Terra Bronze, which is basically an earthy gray to match our metal roof.  It modernized the ranch instantly…and balanced out the colors in the Tennessee Fieldstone. I went back and forth between white and gray for a few months and finally decided that gray was different. And I like different. The install was done by Lowe’s Home Improvement in Sylva, NC. The custom black metal chimney cap was made by local Larry Hughes. The top swivels to the side to allow access to the chimney without having to remove it.


I have been working on the inside of the house slowly, but I’ve neglected the photography…I’ll start sharing those updates. I don’t think our new house could be any farther (physically and distantly!) from our old house.

Someone asked why it’s called the House on Hospital Hill….it’s just because it’s the hill in town that the hospital is located on:


All House on Hospital Hill posts can be found here.

Bake Me a Cake

At the risk of all of you mistaking me for a food blogger I’m going to show you this:

Using the Cake Boss Cakelette Pan - a miniature layer cake

I made that cake!  Seriously. And it was edible. It was really good actually!

I was asked by Michaels a few weeks ago if I would try out new Cake Boss products.  Baking is not my thing but I thought it would be fun to see if I could do it, and involve Boo since she loves to bake (mostly lick the bowl and eat the finished product).  The cakelette pans were what grabbed my interest…I love all things miniature and the little cakelettes look like miniature layer cakes: [Read more…]

I-Beam Benches

I love these so much I just had to share. Brett’s project today was making these benches for Bryson City Outdoors. Each one is made from pieces of a large steel I-beam and a large salvaged barn timber:

reclaimed barn timber and i-beam project

The I-beam was cut at a local scrapyard with the perfect dimensions. Holes were added on one side to attach to the wood. One is about 6 feet long and the other one is super long at 18 feet:



To read more about all the salvaging and upcycling that was done at Bryson City Outdoors click here. And if you are in Bryson City this summer (which you should be…it’s beautiful) make sure to stop in and say hello to my hubby Brett. Or Ben. Or Mel. One of those three is usually in the retail space.

P.S. If you ARE planning a trip make sure to check out their blog too….it’s constantly being updated with printable maps and other guides to the outdoors!

How to Make a Father Child Journal

Father's Day Father Child Journal DIY

My challenge this month as a Michaels Maker was to create a Father’s Day Gift. I decided to make a Father-Child journal that could be used to exchange messages  back and forth. The starting point was just a blank sketchbook like these:


I created a template (which you can download at the bottom of this page):


I used transfer paper to trace my image onto the blank book:


Here are the faint outlines of letters waiting to be filled in:


I used regular acrylic craft paint to fill in the letters:


Once the first letters were dry I printed out another template to add the “Dear Daughter” in a contrasting color. This template (as well as “Dear Son” are at the bottom of this post):


The finished journal:


I created this letter (template also down below) to make it clear what the journal was for…and to give Dad some ideas on things he can write or draw in the journal:


And of course the gift comes with supplies like stickers, stamps and crayons:


Package it all together and father and child will make a memorable book! [Read more…]

A Week of Paintings – Set 4

It really didn’t take me a week to do these, I crammed them into a few days when Boo was home sick, but there are 7 of them. So it kind of counts right?

Bryson City recently became a trout city which means they’ll be keeping the river stocked.  I’ve always wanted to learn to fly fish so I’m hoping this will be the year I finally do it. A tiny brown trout:

brown trout

An old friend asked me if I’d be interested in an art swap. He painted this painting of Boo.  I painted a series of 4 “things that are round” starting with a pie:


And ended up with these 4 which I think all compliment each other:


A full moon, in a locket:


And Frida, in another locket:


Not the first time I’ve used Frida in art. Boo and I made this button collage a few years ago:

How to make a button collage: Frida Kahlo Button Art Collage via (click through to see the HD  time lapse video)

We also made a Cinderella and a Mona Lisa out of buttons. You can see the process here. 


The little one-of-a-kind locket paintings will be in my shop eventually.  You can follow Lil Blue Boo on Instagram to see the progress!

An index of all tiny paintings can be found here.

Have a great day!


The Raptor and the Mourning Dove

Today I heard a huge “boom” right outside my window. The dogs went wild and ran from door to window to door. As I peeked out our big living room window I could see a hawk upside down moving his wings a little. I locked up the dogs and went outside to see if he was okay. HIs little chest heaved just one or two more times and then he was completely still. I yelled at him trying to shock him back into this world, but he was gone.  Lifeless. Poor little guy. To the right of me was another bird, its neck broken, in a pool of blood. It pretty much died instantly when they both hit the side of the house going about 100 mph. Normally I wouldn’t share a photo of a dead animal but the hawk was so beautiful. Those yellow-rimmed eyes, still wide open:

At first I thought that it was a pigeon that had been killed but it turned out to be a mourning dove. I won’t share that photo, even though it’s also quite beautiful I think with the thick crimson blood and the closed periwinkle eyelid, some normal people might have an aversion to it. But I did draw it:


When I was reading about the mourning dove today I learned that it is the closest relative to the extinct passenger pigeon. Coincidentally I wrote about the extinct passenger pigeon on Instagram recently.  I’d found an origami version of the bird in the September 2014 issue of Smithsonian Magazine:


The last wild passenger pigeon died in March 1900, shot down from the sky by a boy in Ohio. The last one in captivity died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. Her name was Martha. She didn’t live the best life. (imagine being the last of your kind on earth, an elderly zoo attraction in a cage, with no friends, i.e. planet-of-the-pigeon) Her body was saved though and you can see her at the National Museum of Natural History through the end of this year. In 1860 there were estimated to be almost 3.7 billion Passenger pigeons. Then they were hunted to death. Not one left.

“MARTHA, last of her species, died at 1 p.m., 1 September 1914, age 29, in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden. EXTINCT”
(photo source)


(You can read more about Martha here.)

Speaking of taxidermy, because I know you are super interested, right? I’m reading a book right now called Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy. It’s kind of a memoir about taxidermy. Randomly picked it up at the bookstore.  I’m all for taxidermy to preserve animals, I’m just not a fan of it for the sport of killing trophies.

Honestly, for a split second I thought about the idea of keeping the tiny hawk and having him stuffed. But…the House on Hospital Hill is not the Biltmore Estate.  We don’t really have a place for skinned and stuffed animals. Plus I’d have to go through crazy hoops probably to get salvage permits and who knows what else.  The vultures around here keep leaving me feathers and it’s illegal to even keep those according to the North American Migratory Bird Act. Even if it’s from a dead animal. I doubt there would be a federal raid if I kept just one, but I won’t take my chances.

Have you heard about the Rauschenberg’s assemblage art Canyon? (You can view it here I don’t want any part of Migratory copyright infringement of bald eagle art.)  I was following the story a few years ago. Basically Rauschenberg’s piece contained a stuffed bald eagle which meant it could never be sold. According to the heirs of an estate that owned the piece that one little fact, in theory, would give it a value of zero for estate taxes. But the IRS placed a value of $65 million on it, which carries a huge estate tax:

“The IRS is saying you have to pay the tax. If you sell the work to raise the money to pay the tax, it’s a criminal offense and you go to jail.” -Ralph Lerner, art dealer, as quoted in Art News. 

It was eventually donated to MOMA. No charitable deduction with a value of zero.

Sorry total tangent there. But I do think the use of discarded objects by Rauschenberg is very relatable to vultures in a way.

Anyway, it takes all my energy not to keep a feather…because I’m constantly picking up little things here and there for the shadow boxes we have.


Seven vultures were just staring at me yesterday morning from a tree in our yard. FYI: they don’t like to be talked to. One by one they picked themselves up and flew away:


The vultures use the thermal air currents to fly with very little effort. I watch them all the time and they are so peaceful and unassuming, rarely flapping their wings. Just gliding. I think they are a great symbol for floating through life and I think a vulture feather carries a message with it: use your energy wisely. One circled me the other day…literally just about 50 feet away, just hanging out. I could see her eyes and then she flew off. Just curious I guess. Or maybe the crows told her that I give away popcorn occasionally on the tree stump.

I know I’ve written about this before but it’s primarily why I left the two birds for the vultures today.  A sky burial:

I re-watched the movie Kundun a while back and was reminded of the sky burial that Tibetan Buddhists use at death. The vultures  scavenge the remains of the dead, giving them second life.  There’s a powerful part in the book Last American Man where Eustace Conway’s horse Hobo breaks his leg and he shoots him and leaves the body for a year:

He left Hobo where he’d fallen. He wanted the vultures to eat him. He knew that the Native Americans believed vultures to be the sacred transport, the means by which a spirit is delivered from the earth up into the sky. So Eustace left Hobo there, where the birds could find him. Which means that, even today, whenever Eustace is working outside and sees vultures drifting in the air, he looks up and says hello, because he knows that’s where Hobo lives now.
The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert

(amazing book btw, I read it straight through and didn’t sleep for a night)

A year later Eustace went back for the vulture feathers, to collect them and to put them somewhere sacred.

Every time I see a vulture drifting in the air I say hello too. And thanks.

And as Whitman put it: What stranger miracles are there?

The circle of life.

Rest in peace little raptor.

Rest in peace little dove.

Excruciatingly Intricated

I’m determined to know everything about every wild plant I come across in the Smoky Mountains. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book The Signature of All Things inspired me. On walks I’ve been collecting samples and figuring out what they are and whether they are edible etc. and the origin of the names. Keeping notes and sketches in a journal with the pressed flowers to be added in at some point.


In an 1897 bird book I found last week at the used book store John Burroughs wrote in the intro:

We must in a way earn what we have or keep. Only thus does it become ours, a real part of us.


This I’m determined to do: to earn this piece of earth I live on. And I love the process of it all. Like yesterday morning, on a walk in Island Park: I found ferns uncurling, or unfurling I think is the correct term. Doesn’t this look like something down the rabbit hole:


While I was taking a photo of the fern this little guy crawled out waving all his little legs. He kept moving too fast for me to take a photo of him. Anyone who walked past would have seen my on my knees talking to a few piles of leaves. I did a little research and found out that it’s a Nantahala Millipede. That probably translates to: millipede that lives near the Nantahala.


There’s a place in the park, the north end of the island, where a large wall in the shape of a “V” has been built to break the river around the island:


If you peek over the side it is covered in secret moss, secret only because you would have to kneel down and lean carefully over the side that faces the river to see it. And when I spotted these little pods…I almost keeled over the side….what are these incredible looking things?!


There’s this passage in The Signature of All Things where Alma is explaining why she admires mosses so:

Their dignity. Also, their silence and intelligence. I like that -as a point of study- they are fresh. They are not like other bigger or more important plants, which have all been pondered and poked at by hordes of botanists already. I supposed I admit their modesty, as well. Mosses hold their beauty in elegant reserve. By comparison to mosses, everything else in the botanical world can seem so blunt and obvious.

No thank you to Mr. blunt and Mrs. obvious. I spent a lot of time photographing the hidden side of a wall trying to capture it pieces of it, mostly because I have the worst eyesight and I can enlarge photos.

I mean, is this Narnia?!


I didn’t notice this spider until later. He was doing a great job camouflaging himself. Creepy little bugger.


Look at these teeny, tiny little ferns taking hold in a vertical wall. Ferns for ants. If I was an ant I’d set up a little camp site on that tiny little ledge and spend lots of time there roasting miniature marshmallows on a miniature campfire reading a miniature book.


Nature’s carpet, full of seed pods and dandelion wisps.


Gosh, this:

But sometimes I fear that my world has become too detailed. My books on mosses take me years to write, and my conclusions are excruciatingly intricated, not unlike those elaborate Persian miniatures one can study only with magnifying lens. My work brings me no fame. It brings me no income, either – so you can see I am using my time wisely!

Am I using my time wisely? I guess so, and I guess we all struggle with how we are supposed to use our time. I am always working. Working from the second I wake up until the second I go to sleep. Collecting, writing, reading, and filtering. One day hopefully it will all translate into the end result I want it to. The castle in the air, right? When people ask me how my writing is going I tell them fine. And every once in a while all of that writing is packaged into a nice little package that may someday be used…or not used.  I recently had a chapter workshopped in a group of writers. As they critiqued my work, and I listened on mute, I cried. I mean I bawled. Because they got it. And I’d been in such fear that maybe I was not getting it. One writer said “this is a big existential piece” and I had to go and look up existential. And I thought maybe I should start learning and adding some bigger words to my vocabulary.

Our pastor’s wife Jodi (who you’ve read before here) shared this verse last Sunday:

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14


A vanishing mist. I love that. According to Boo’s NatGeo magazine: the amount of water on earth never changes. What?! A constant? Last summer on Mt. LeConte I watched a delicate mist turn into a roaring river:

“The mist begins to condense onto the vegetation and then it begins to drip and then a trickle turns into a stream. As it’s filtered through moss and rock it gets funneled into tiny waterfalls across the trail…which eventually compound into the larger streams below.”  from High and Far Off Places

How to Get to Mt. Le Conte Lodge

This ranks high up there with the time I found the place where the river meets the lake. I never even imagined that there was a beginning and end to a river. It’s like the mystical end of a rainbow.

 Moss is inconceivably strong. Moss eats stone; scarcely anything, in return, eats moss. moss dines upon boulders, slowly but devastatingly, in a meal that lasts for centuries. Given enough time, a colony of moss can turn a cliff into gravel, and turn that gravel into topsoil. Under shelves of exposed limestone, moss colonies create dropping, living sponges that hold on tight and drink calciferous water straight form the stone. Over time, this mix of moss and mineral will itself turn into travertine marble.

Moss grows where nothing else can grow. It grows on bricks. It grows on tree bark and roofing slate. It grows in the Arctic Circle and in the balmiest tropics. It also grow on the fur of sloths, on the backs of snails, on decaying human bones. -Page 169, The Signature of All Things


Moss just needs time.

My friend author Patti Digh has always given me the greatest advice, I wrote this down recently:

We care too much about what people think. Your job is to write. Write what is true to you. We jump too quickly to putting our work out to other people.

I’m very cozy in my little world and all its details. It’s not glamorous or flashy or fame-filled, but it’s excruciatingly intricated, and full of moss and ferns and centipedes. And it may take me a million years to finish my castle in the air, but I can see it. I’m turning a cliff into gravel. With my health history you might think I’d be in a hurry, but quite the opposite. When the mist vanishes, it turns into another trickle. I think that’s kind of existential. Dictionary please.

And so, with that I am going to go and keep writing. Right after I do our taxes.

P.S. I did not spell check or grammar check this post. Sorry for any typos. And any incomplete thoughts.