Welcome and thanks for visiting the DOK Photo blog! I'm a natural light photographer serving Moab, Utah, and specializing in newborn and child photography. This is where I post sneak peeks of recent sessions, my attempts at memory-keeping, and sources of inspiration.
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Friday, October 24, 2014

Pattern 159: Light On Two Sides Of Every Room

our bedroom on Cottonwoodlane

First, an apology and a celebration. This is only my 10th post during the Write31Days challenge, and quite possibly my last post for the month of October. At the same time, wahoo, I posted 10 times during October! That’s more than twice as many posts compared to any other month this year.

I won’t bore you with details about my excuses---suffice to say we move into our house in ONE WEEK! We are painting non-stop and giving our new home as much TLC as we can before all our things, which have been in storage the past four months, arrive this Tuesday. We also sold and gave away a TON of stuff before we moved, so we’ve had to make lots of purchasing decisions this month. Any one of these decisions would be a fun opportunity on its own, but having to make them all at the same time is plain crazy-making.

I will continue exploring Christopher Alexander’s book, A Pattern Language, and linking those posts to the introductory page, even if it takes me a year to write 31 of them.

web our house is a very very fine house

All of the images in this post are from my favorite room in our home on Cottonwood Lane, the master bedroom. It’s fun to see clues as to when images were taken. That first image is one of the realtor’s photos in June of this year---I thought it funny that they closed all the shades for the shot. The second image is from 2008---I spy a different chair in the sitting area, the blue JC Penny glider that might not be pretty but that was perfect for nursing my babies. The black box/bag on the floor is a nursing pump.

I loved this room for many reasons. It was big enough to include a crib or bassinet or the kids’ bookcase after we moved the playroom downstairs. Yet it remained a bit of an adult oasis in our kid-dominated house. I loved the soothing blue (Benjamin Moore November Skies). We only hung art and photos on one wall, which kept the room extremely calm in its simplicity. Most of all, though, I loved its light.

According to A Pattern Language’s Pattern 159:

When they have a choice, people will always gravitate to those rooms which have light on two sides, and leave the rooms which are lit only from one side unused and empty.

And so Christopher Alexander recommends that you build so that each room has outdoor space along at least two walls, and that you then place windows so that light falls into every room from more than one direction.

Christopher Alexander pattern 159 Light From Two Directions

Wouldn’t it be nice if that were always feasible? It would be if we all built according to Pattern 109: Long Thin House. But in deep houses, it isn’t unusual to find rooms with only one source of natural light.

There are ways to compensate---you can use mirrors, or open up the floor plan so other rooms’ light contributes. Start paying attention though. Look at your home and notice which rooms have light coming from more than one direction. I think it’s a bit overstated---“unused and empty,” but I constantly notice this now, and feel the difference it makes.

Alexander spends a lot of time on light and windows (Pattern 107: Wings of Light; 128: Indoor Sunlight; 194: Interior Windows, 180: Window Place, and many more). As we looked at houses over the past six months (hundreds of houses!), light was second only to location on my priority list.

You can add windows but you can’t change location. But adding natural light is no small undertaking, and I believe the least appreciated aspect in first-time home buyers. “This pattern, perhaps more than any other single pattern, determines the success or failure of a room,” writes Alexander.


I was delighted to find this discussion of Pattern 159 on Houzz.com, though their work-around options clearly fall short compared to the images that contain Pattern 159.

31 Days button

This post is part of Myquillyn Smith’s Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts on A Pattern Language linked here, and other blogs participating in the challenge (and writing on different topics) here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How I Learned to Cook: Part 3


Wouldn’t it be nice if I could conclude by saying that I am now a great chef, supremely confident in the kitchen and experimenting with my own recipes? I’m not. I still get flustered and distracted easily while cooking. Still get overwhelmed while trying to plan a week’s worth of dinners. Still prefer the ease of baking compared to trying to get different dishes done at the same time.

But I am a cook. I learned, thanks to teachers and mentors, and the opportunity to try again and again. If you do anything almost every day for ten years, you can’t help but get better at it.


It’s only a story to me because I never expected it, for so long consciously avoided it. And now I consider it a gift to be able to feed the ones I love, to gather friends around a table.

I saw how cooking in no way limited what else Brian might do. And once we had children, I suddenly cared twice as much about what ingredients we used and where our food came from.

So many of my fondest memories are centered around a table. I grew up in a household where, if Dad was home for dinner, all of his children had better be too. On Saturday mornings, my mother would make a large Irish breakfast and we would spend hours around that table, listening to stories about my mom growing up on Adams Street in Chicago. You can’t grow up Catholic without seeing the sacred in gathering around a table and breaking bread together. In Russia, we learned that even more keenly. When we came home, we lived for a few months with our best friends, also newlyweds, and took turns making dinner together every night. In Oregon, my friend Alison welcomed us into her home and to her family’s table so many times.

2013 05 15_food sweet and sour stir fry

I miss being able to call my mother with a quick cooking question, or getting a call from her about a great recipe she saw on TV and could I please find it online and send it to her. That’s how the hot corn dip I bring to everything joined our repertoire. I didn’t learn at her knee like some girls do. She was a busy cook and I wasn’t interested, but as adults it was one of the ways we connected best. I have probably called my friend Angie for her salad dressing with rice vinegar and a dash of Tabasco at least six times (why do I keep losing that recipe?). In Utah my friend Annabelle embraced cooking and baking, as well as inviting people to dinner---a lost art! And every time I bake her rum cake or make a salad with pork loin now, I think of her. I love the community of cooking, and the way food and memories intertwine.

2014 02 pork_loin_salad_ipad_photo_by_DOK

I have cherished recipes in my mother’s handwriting, my grandmother’s, my mother-in-law’s. I’ve loved Nora Ephron’s writing since I read Heartburn at sixteen, and eventually came to love Nigel Slater and Laurie Colwin as well. Michael Pollen and Molly Wizenberg, Ree Drummond and Jenny Rosenstrach. They have been my teachers and companions in the kitchen too.

web cheers on mothersday breakfast

Ultimately, more than my mom or Brian, websites or cookbooks, these three faces have been my motivation and teachers in the kitchen. I hope someday they’ll be welcoming Brian and me to their table, where we’ll toast to new celebrations, play movie lines and try to get each other to say the word “what”---and there will be plenty of food and love for everyone.

31 Days button

This post is part of Myquillyn Smith’s Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts on A Pattern Language, and this tangent, linked here, and other blogs participating in the challenge (and writing on different topics) here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

How I Learned to Cook: Part 2


Source: lilyandval.com Find more great chalk lettering art by Valerie McKeehan there.

Welcome to back to my little detour during this month-long series on Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. I am obviously not going to get 31 posts written by October 31st, but you know what, I already have more posts (9) this month than any previous month this year. Progress, not perfection, my friends. And that same philosophy was the key to learning to cook for me.

2012 08 10_0287 food

If anyone doubts that food tastes better at home, start with pico de gallo. There are few things that taste as good, or are as easy to make, and the large batch stuff from restaurants will never compare.

I enjoyed Brian’s cooking, and started, just barely, learning to cook while we were in grad school together. My job provided room and board on campus, but only for one. So we used my food card for lunch (and lots of Ben & Jerry pints), and Brian made us dinner. When he was gone during the summer, fighting wildfire, I experimented. I have no idea where I got the recipes (I didn’t own one cookbook), but I do remember making calzones for my friend Angie (there’s a photo from that meal somewhere!) and trying to make taco salad for my friend Triz. It was the early 90s and salad served inside a bowl-shaped fried tortilla seemed brilliant to me. Triz, whose taquitos still reign as the best ever in my memory, asked me why I didn’t just start simply. I was struggling to lower a metal can into the hot oil in order to shape the tortilla like a bowl as she said that, and thought she might have a point.

on mt graham

Our kitchen in a USFS cabin on Mt. Graham in Safford, Arizona, the summer after we were married, 1994. It was actually bigger than the kitchens in our apartments on campus.

In 1995, we left for two years in the Far East of Russia as Peace Corps volunteers. And that is where I really learned to cook. Brian worked for the Russian Forest Service, helping establish a bare-root nursery in an area that had been devastated by wildfire, and I taught English to 5th through 11th graders at the village school. This meant that I got home about 90 minutes before him. So starting the fire and starting our dinner fell to me.


Our sweet house on Dachnia Street.

The fact that we had only two small burners and our wood stove, no refrigeration beyond our windowsills and front porch, and no running water beyond what we carried back from the neighborhood well, meant that the pressure was off. It was actually easier to cook with the limited ingredients I could find in our village, or on our monthly trip to the city. There were no expectations. We were both grateful for any meal either of us put together.


My friend Olga’s mother, pictured above, taught me to make pelmenyi. My colleague, Valentina Nikolaevna, taught me to make borsch. Fellow volunteers, spread out as we were, shared recipes. I lost about twenty pounds my first year as a volunteer, but gained most of it back by the end of the second. We adapted. Some aspects of Russian culture reminded me of my Irish relatives. Everyone was always offering you a cup of tea, and regardless of how little any household might have, they always set a grand table for visitors. We learned that even if our vocabulary and grammar  limited communication, food was a great bridge across cultures.


A polaroid photo sent to us with a thank you note from a group of US forestry advisors who showed up unexpectedly at our door one day in Selikhino. They had been drinking with their Russian counterparts since that morning, and I remember trying to wrangle something to feed them. Here’s my gourmet dish, tomatoes with shredded cheese. I’m grateful for the photo---the only one I have of that kitchen.


When we left Russia after two and a half years, we were sure of so many things. That we would never again complain about doing laundry in the US. That we would always buy fresh bread and loose tea, and make pelmeni at least once a month. Now, with sliced bread on the counter and box of PG Tips tea bags in the cupboard, we’re lucky if we make pelmeni once a year. But our time there did have a lasting impact in many other ways.

My friends in Russia taught me that the best cure for homesickness is being welcomed into another’s home. That bread and wine (or more likely Russian champagne) are better at overcoming language barriers than any pocket dictionary. That the best dessert is often a small bite of chocolate. That there is always room for one more at the table. That a cup of tea is the best medicine for almost all troubles.

I learned that cooking was a gift, and just as in gift-giving, it was the thought and intention that matter more than the recipe or the result. All of these were lessons I could have learned in my parent’s home, but sometimes you need to travel far from home to see the wisdom of your parents.

When we returned home, I still didn’t consider myself a cook but the difference was that I finally wanted to cook.

If you’re still with me on this self-indulgent trip down my culinary memory-lane, look for part 3 on Thursday.


31 Days button

This post is part of Myquillyn Smith’s Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts on A Pattern Language linked here, and other blogs participating in the challenge (and writing on different topics) here.

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