Category Archives: Alaska

Taking the Sickness South

This piece is dedicated to the people of Lousiville. From Chef, who made the thick and hearty chicken broth on my first day of sickness…to Ms. Vickie who loves me and all my babies, and gave them all sweet nicknames and taught us how to shine our boots the southern way…to my sweet cousin I hadn’t seen in decades and who drove and gave up her weeknight just to spend an hour with us… and all the folks in between: you have all taught this band of northerners what the phrase “Southern Hospitality” means. Even though most of my time was spent in my hotel room, it was a beautiful trip because of you. Thank you. 

So I took my kids -my own kids and my 4-H kids- South for their big competition and it was all they ever wanted and all they had been looking forward to, and two days after we got there, I got sick.


Now, you have to understand somethin’ bout this Mama. If I ever tell you I got sick, I got sick. Having a mind that tends toward worst-case-scenarios, I’m in the business of intentally down playing any illness that may strike me. I constantly talk myself out of being sick so that I don’t end up seeming sicker that I really am. Plus, other than the wonky thyroid, I’m very seldom sick. I had to go back and look up the last time I was sick, because that was the time I was so sick I had to write a blog piece about it.

I was SICK y’all.


And now, this time, I was that sick again. Except this time, I was 5,000 miles from home, I was trip coach to my team and chaperones who were on their dream journey to a national competition, I didn’t have a car, I was bunking up with my two teenagers, and I was stuck in a hotel room with windows that DON’T OPEN.

It was sheer pain, hell, and knarliness for six straight days and the worst of it was, I wanted to TALK! I got to be coach for the first Alaska team of our type to EVER grace these competitions and I had coaches to meet and new friends to make! Nope, by Day 3, once the fevers, chills, and body aches had subsided, so had my voice.

By the time my second kiddo fell, I was tired and feeble enough from the long days of illness to have several quiet spells of crying at the unfairness of traveling all this way just for my big boy to not be able to attend the banquet that would tell him how he and his team did, or to only get to do half of the fun tours we had planned that would show us around this huge city most of my team had never seen.


By the time I had the hotel shuttle man, Eddie the Awesome hustle our hineys over to the Kroger -did you know you can see a nurse at the Kroger now?- where I spent $400 for a nice man in scrubs to tickle our nostrils and tell me the kids were still showing for Influenza while my boogies were clean and that really the best thing for us was just to rest up in our hotel room, (if I’d had a voice I would have laughed hysterically, as it was, he just got a deadpan stare.) I was a mad mess of mama coach mixed in with irritation, surrender, and resolve when we left. No more tears, we just needed to get through the rest of the trip and infect the least amount of people we could and try not to take any souvenirs of the Influenza Type A type home.

My team moms took the reins and 3/4 of the team still got to see the sights. My kids all rocked it and worked through the sickness (one started to fall on the day of the last competition, bringing the team sickness ratio to 2:3) and they celebrated that, as the contest’s obvious Underdog, they succeeded in NOT taking the title of last place. We all laughed at the differences between livestock people and chicken people. We made a group decision to skip out on the official dinner in order to go gather round the tables that had become so familiar at the hotel restaurant so we could be homey and enjoy our last meal in Kentucky together just us, as a team. They leaned in to my whisper voice and I smiled at their accomplishments and the good that comes even when things go much much differently than you’d anticipated.


And then, on the way home, our week flown much, much too fast and yet dreadfully slow at the same time, my team girls were strewn all about the airport chairs, legs akimbo and having conversations teens have when they talk as if they are the only ones in the whole world, and one said to the other as they laughed over junk food….

man that’s so sick.

And they just laughed and laughed and glowed the glow of youth when they’re just happy and perfect and content and everything is perfect and cool -sick- in their world. 

We took our sickness south. 


We didn’t win by any means. Not even close. Heck, out of 19 teams, we didn’t even place in the top ten. Second-to-last is farrr from winning.

And on a scale of one to ten, with one being Small Fry Farms and ten being Big Ag, we learned that here in Alaska, we’re barely on the paper. 

I had folks tell me that all the big states had qualifiers to even go to their state competition and that by the time their kids got to Nationals, they’d been competing at the national skill level for years.

We had folks tell us that Alaska would lose.


But we didn’t lose and do you know why?

Because we went.

We put our little Ag big state on the map of national livestock contests and we showed them that we want to be part of things too.

We met people over the course of our six days that’d we’ll remember forever and we gave out smiles and we gave out hugs to folks who won’t soon forget us.

We took all of the love of our community, and all the well wishes and financial support of our sponsors, and we put it in our pockets and we put it on our shirts and we put it in our hearts and my kids were brave and they went.

And everywhere we’d go, out of all the teams, it was Alaska that got the biggest applause.

Not because we won, but because we showed up.


Because it’s pretty dang cool that a little band of everyday Joes from a land so far away that it’s barely on the map would drive three hours to take three different planes for a whole day of flying to go to a land to play on a playground with kids who are so used to the playground equipment it feels like their backyard tree fort, while the faraway kids are just seeing the playground for the first time.

That’s what the clapping said. That’s what the questions asked and what the smiles spoke. And everywhere we went in our new southern city, we were bombarded with questions like Alaskans always are when they go Outside, but at the end of it, after all the questions and all the learning, what my kids heard from their peers, these kids who grow up Ag, was

We’re glad you came. It’s good that you’re here.

Half of us missed the events and tours we had scheduled.


I became more familiar with a hotel room that I ever want to be again.

I wish our group would’ve been able to spend more time together.

We weren’t 100%.

But as we came home, I realized that the magnitude and the excitement of what we had done hadn’t been changed just because we got influenza or even because we hadn’t won.

Nothing had changed at all.

We still put Alaska on the map.

We showed folks that we care enough to show up.

We saw so much.

We learned SO MUCH.

Team, you smiled at your accomplishments instead of seeing your lack of winning as losing.

You were the Underdog but you were brave.

You were brave.

And that, my kids, is SO sick.




In a season that catches by surprise, I’ve come to anticipate the unexpected.

Four kids fill this house and this calendar and these rooms…

and the minds and the lives and the hearts of their parents.


Critters live and critters die, and sometimes it comes by way of sudden chirping from the woods when a nest of nine stumbles and weaves behind mama turkey, and sometimes it comes by way of the quiet death of a loud guinea or the noble fight and fall of a beloved pony.

“Moment by moment” round here is never an exaggeration.



But what’s never expected is the cold stare from one who was once a warm friend.

What catches by surprise and catches in the throat are the words stuck that stream through quiet moments and that are outlined with bold strokes of anger and frustration but mostly just scream Why?? When?? I thought we were friends??

And a rejection like that can make a mama pull in and pull close and focus on just the ones around her, the ones she knows for sure love her.

Making friends never gets easier does it?

And down deep, isn’t there always that little girl who lives inside of us? That first grader in a room full of new classmates who’s standing there awkward when she realizes she’s tied the back of her dress up into her waistband while she shifts from foot to foot at the front of the classroom with her underwear and tights all exposed to the world?

Don’t the bruises get blacker when a soul gets older?


And when the demands are so great a big gal feels small and sometimes has a hard time breathing let alone doing anything extra, a mama can only just bear down and push through the cramp and know she’s doing what she was meant to do in this moment: deliver these babies out into the world.

She’ll keep pushing and she’ll keep grunting and she’ll try not to swear even though she might yell out during the especially hard parts.

She didn’t know it’d be like this over a dozen years after they were born.


And sometimes just the day to day can be enough to make us keep things shy and reserved and holding the heart close to the chest and the real feelings tight in the pocket.

Enough of the keeping it tight can make us keep it closed and before we know it, we’ve holed ourselves up while we tell ourselves we’re just in a quiet season of bearing down.

And then the real unexpected…

The exceptional unexpected.

The beautiful unexpected.

The unexpected gift of the unexpected time of an unexpected dinner with a couple from church, two souls just ahead on the sidewalk, and all the unexpected tears and laughter that come from that kind of unexpected encounter.

How the path we’re walking is so very familiar to them.

How the struggles we wrestle are ones they’ve conquered.

How the unexpected keeps on into the empty nest years.

How the unexpected keeps on…

My heart carries the day this month that we drove to the place where we sailed to the spot…

that gate where three seas meet, -just past the sanctuary for mariners- and the wind blew fierce and the waves pounded hard and how could I not feel God hold me there in that spot where warm tears of praise slipped down cold cheeks of wonder?


The whales of September came by surprise and Native founders sailed those waters on kayaks and I sailed them with my children who stood bravely against the gusts and they braced themselves to the threat and they laughed into the wind because they are young and they trust their father and their mother, but they especially trust the One who made the skies.




The joy we’ve had this month can be lost in the hard of this month and the hard of lost friendship and the hard of this life…

but when I focus on the good…when I fix my eyes on the pure…the hard isn’t so hard and the good is pure joy.

The unexpected moments from the unexpected trip that grew my babies and grew my mama and that grew me.

The unexpected victories that taught us that sometimes a person will win when they practice hard but that sometimes even hard practice won’t win, and that that’s okay too.

The unexpected setbacks that taught us that sometimes a plan needs a bit more time and a bit more stitching before it becomes a whole quilt.

The unexpected friends that came with what could’ve been a tight and tough competition but instead turned into a tight and tender time.


All the unexpected.


How the unexpected keeps on…

And then, just as a mama might start to come out of her September shell and decide rejection won’t keep her because she’s already accepted by the One who made her and Who holds her…

a routine night at church brings the unexpected, a gift, a sweet out-of-the-blue message and warm watery eyes from a new friend who is trailing just behind on the parenting sidewalk, and she might think it a small gift…

but it is bigger than that.

It makes me think of you she tells me.

And I tear up some because I don’t know her that well yet but still she thought of me, and by thinking of me she didn’t reject me, and by not rejecting me she reminds me that even when the world is cold and some people are cold, we really are each other’s keeper and we needn’t be cold back because if we are…if we close ourselves off and make ourselves cold…

we won’t ever make this planet warmer.

How the unexpected keeps on…

So I squeeze her once because her gift is so precious.

I stare at it for a second and see how perfect it is and how sweet the words are, and she smiles and I smile and then I squeeze her again because I’m so touched at her gift and how it is straight from her heart.

And so very unexpected.


I delight myself in You
Captivated by Your beauty
I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You
God, I run into Your arms
Unashamed because of mercy
I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You
I delight myself in You
In the Glory of Your Presence
I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You
And God I run into Your arms
Unashamed because of mercy
I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You
~Big Daddy Weave

North to Alaska

Our July is usually so busy I want to run away when I get to the end of it.

I’m totally overwhelmed, drained of energy, and ready to up and move to a place where there are no farm animals, no fishermen, no motor homes, and no boats.

But every July, on the 27th, I remember…

I chose this place!

It was nineteen years ago today that I rolled into this amazing place that became my new home.

It had been a boyhood dream of my husband’s to move here after high school with his best friend, but meeting me changed all of that.

When, years into our relationship, he told me of his past plans, I chastised him for not telling me sooner and told him I would’ve gone with him.

Thus began the planning and the saving and the letter writing with his friend, who’d long since settled in the land the two of them had talked of.

And when his friend came back for a visit and his folks were planning a haul of goods up the AlCan, we took our dreams and we hit our knees and we asked if now, right now might be the time.

Those good folks were thrilled to have another driver and they packed their goods and they packed my husband and I sent our valuables in the valuable trunk he’d built on our first Christmas. His Daddy shook his hand and told him he always had a home to come back to and we all stood and waved goodbye as the tooley fog lifted off the cornfield that June morning.

the bridge

I talked to him every night, but one afternoon he called in the middle of the day and a call at work meant something big and the big thing was a job and a job was the go ahead for me to give up the steady paycheck that tied us to somewhere secure.

I hung up the phone and went to my boss and gave her my two weeks’ notice and that night I started selling all that was left of our stuff.

I was Alaska bound. Even though he was already there, WE were officially Alaska bound.

On a humid July morning, my mom and I rolled out of the only state I’d ever lived in with my big brown dog and my little tranquilized cat and all I owned on the top of my red four-door sedan.

We rolled into Alaska six days later, and on the night of the 27th, when I’d made it to our new town and stopped at the first gas station I found for a pack of cigarettes and a Diet Coke, I knew I was home. I knew I would never want to leave this place.

And I haven’t.

Oh we’ve flown out a few times for family trips and the occasional vacation, but this place is a place that holds a person. When we think of how much easier it’d be in the Lower 48, how much more affordable it is in other places, how many more people there are for our kids to know…

…we come back to the fact that we’d have to leave Alaska.

I lost the cigarettes and my ability to drive in big cities and freeways.

But I found the Lord.

We came up not knowing one another that well.

But we wrestled our way into being best friends.

The two of us didn’t have any furniture.

But now we have a house full of it because we have all these kids.

We only knew one family and held them close.

But now we know many families who hold US close.

Nineteen years.

Not long at all.

And when I look at my calendar and the crazy amount of writing on all the squares this month, my eyes fall to today’s and I remember that I really don’t want to run away. I already did that nineteen years ago and every day since…

I’m home.



OCTOBER 2015 360


I am Woman. I Bought a Gun.

I bought a gun today.

I took my ten-year old daughter with me.

When I learned that my trusty old revolver -the one I am comfortable with, the one that has few moving parts, the one that fits my hand just right- well, when I learned that it might not be the best gun for a woman to become too comfortable with, and that the instructor of the class I’d signed up for wasn’t excited about having me use it over a semi-auto…

I looked down at my sweet daughter, -patient and holding Mama’s cell phone and keys at the gun counter- and I decided that I’d move out of my comfort zone just like my girl does all the time with her many 4-H projects.

I decided to follow her example and step out of my box and push myself to learn-by-doing just like any good 4-H’er knows is the very best way of starting something new.


So I bought a gun.

I bought a gun without even talking to my husband, or consulting any other man, (unless you count my pal, my husband’s handsome lifelong friend who happened to stroll up to the gun counter and, when seeing I was buying a gun, offered a once over, a word of caution about the thumb safety on my model, and an atta girl) and with no guidance from anyone other than a brief chat with the kind-eyed woman who will be my shooting instructor.

I bought a gun even though we own many and I’ve shot most of them and I even have one of my very own that everyone calls Mom’s Rifle.

But those guns my husband bought.

This one I bought.

I am now the proud owner of  a Smith and Wesson 9 mm, complete with a magazine (not a clip folks, never a “clip”), a holster, 100 rounds of ammo, and a soft-sided case. The whole shebang.

And do you know what I heard after I walked out with my new gun?

I heard that just this morning, in our fair state of Alaska, there was a massive theft of guns from a small gun store.

Today my girl and I spent over one hour legally procuring a weapon, filling out pages of paperwork, having my height and weight (so what if it was just my driver’s license weight, STILL) blown up to 8×11 size for the file, having my drug habits and mental status queried, having my name run through a federal registry, having my signature scrutinized, having to provide all the basic information that anyone would need to steal my identity and wreak havoc on my life, all so I could be declared “safe” and walk out of the store with a weapon.


That is the process.

That is how it’s done.

I did everything right.

And I told my girl as we drove off that today was an important day for her.



That today she got to be part of witnessing a free woman in a free country exercising one of the rights so many that have come before her fought and died for.

Today was the day when she saw her grown up mama become a little more of a grown up.

Today was the day we talked about countries and laws that aren’t friendly to women and how in this land, we don’t yet live that way.

Today we talked about how it’s important to use the strength God gave you in the place that He put you.

How having a good husband is a wonderful and amazing thing, but that not every woman has one, and even if they do, it’s good and pertinent for her to know how to make decisions for herself.

How men and women fought and died so that we could do what we did today.

And she said That’s right Mama. We can bear arms.


I did it legally.

And what took us an hour, buying that gun with hard-earned money my husband toils for week in and week out and generously provides for me to use as I see fit…fulfilling all the government’s requirements to purchase and possess a weapon…

it took the thieves 28 seconds.

Twenty-eight seconds of video footage showing them stealing many weapons, taking all they could fill their shirts with, fulfilling zero governmental requirements other than those required to be considered a gun thief.

They didn’t even have to give their driver’s license weight.

Do you see why gun owners have a hard time when folks start murmuring about upping the requirements for gun ownership?

I did it legally.

Someone bent on destroying lives will do it whether it be by a knife, a step van, a bomb, or an illegally-obtained weapon.

Gun owners, responsible, law-abiding gun owners…

we own guns legally and we use guns legally.

We fill out the paperwork, we answer the questions, we write down the serial number, we pay the money, we carry responsibily and we shoot responsibly.

Do you think the little 9 mil I’m now so proud of and a little scared of and can’t wait to practice with is going to mow people down by my legal hand?

Or do you think one of the many that those thieves so indiscriminately stole will?

Do you see the difference?

After today, after exercising my freedom and proudly practicing my independence, and teaching my daughter to do the same, I feel a little tug to throw a Don’t Tread on Me sticker on the back of my mom-SUV.

I feel a need to maybe get a little more vocal about our Second Ammendment rights, maybe even get my Concealed Carry permit.

Not to show off or sound big.

Not to paint myself as a knuckle dragging Neandrethol that many today in our society are quick to label us gun owners.


I feel the need because today I exercised the right that so many fought and died to provide for me.

For my children

For you.

For your children.

For my daughter, my precious girl who smiles at me when I tell her how proud I am of her and the young woman she is growing into.

I may take flak from some but you know what?

I am a woman and I bought a gun and I bought it legally and I will learn all I can about it and I will practice with it and it will be my tool.


I am a woman and I bought a gun.

Many picked up their weapons and they said we have a right to defend ourselves. To defend our loved ones.

And today I could almost hear them speaking to me and my girl.

They were saying That’s right Mama. We can bear arms.



The Haying

Our haying for 2016 is done.

Over the past two days we’ve moved 200 bales of hay, a small haul for a small farm, just over five and a half ton. We’ve spent over ten hours in the amazing bake of Alaska sun. We’ve laughed, we’ve snarled, Mama secretly cried a few times over memories and tiredness and quiet grief over a pony we don’t need to buy chow for any more, Daddy not-so-secretly got a sunburn on his bald spot, and we’ve bonded as a family.  

Tucked in alongside hay trips, we’ve learned how to put stitches in a lamb’s leg, we’ve met new people who love 4-H and want to support us in small and big ways, we’ve reunited with some favorite music that speaks of the Great North like no other, and we’ve gone out to eat for the first time in forever.

I thought after Beau died that maybe we weren’t meant for the farm life.

I thought maybe we weren’t good enough for this life with animals and farm folk and feed stores and hay fields.

But after this weekend I realize that the farm life isn’t a matter of who’s good enough or not good enough.

It’s a life that changes those who choose it.

And that with each passing year, with each turn of the season…

you buck bales a little quicker and you learn to steer a little straighter and you get more efficient at driving the field and your muscles get a little bigger.

And just like the hay…

you reach toward the sun and you grow.

JULY 2016 149

FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender (1)untitled1JULY 2016 183

JULY 2016 124





I decided to update my folder of barn records in the morning and before long there were surprised tears in my coffee as I typed up Beau’s last notes.

Our long weekend with him…

and then his final lay down.

JULY 2016 110

The afternoon was filled with 4-H and phone calls and sunshine and then yells from the front yard that the dog had eaten the sheep’s leg off.

There were angry tears when I saw that the dog hadn’t actually EATEN the sheep’s leg, but had tried to herd the sheep and a tied sheep won’t herd and a cattle dog without a job sometimes herds too hard.

JULY 2016 123.JPG

The evening saw us in the hayfield, dropping everything to go on that one day a year when the hay man says it’s here, and the injured sheep stayed home with his girl and my boys donned gloves and my big man does what he does best, he hefts and he pushes through life so he hefts and he pushes through the field of hay and I want to lay down but I drive slow instead and sometimes heft too and then, when my littlest baby is driving the truck and the music is playing and the sun is shining, tired tears come because sometimes a mama really does just want to lay down.

Because sometimes all life is, is hopping from one mishap to another…one mess to the next…one big job to one more big job…

JULY 2016 171

and it can be overwhelming.

And a mama gets tired.

But when a few more quiet tears come on the way home, hay loaded up and midnight approaching, they’re both sad and sweet and grateful because sometimes in the tired we can forget who we are and where our strength comes from.

JULY 2016 176

And while I follow in the second truck and the hay on the trailer in front of me rocks through the Alaska wilderness and the construction zones, I realize how far I am from where I want to be. From where I should be.

All the things…all the places…all the words…how have I gotten this far and left them all undone, unsaid?


But as the midnight sun glares and my baby switches songs on the playlist like a big boy next to me, I remember that I’m close to the One who’s taking me there.

And that every breath is the opposite of mishap and an opportunity to do the things and go the places and say the words.

The mountains are purple on the flats and we take our hay home and my men unload and my girls put the crock pot away and we tuck in the sheep and we go to bed.

And I tell myself that tomorrow there will probably be more mishaps and messes. But that I need to listen. I need to remember the wide open sky and the freshness of hay and the muscles that move.

I need to listen to it all.


So I’ll remember. I’ll remember that tears come when I’m listening and when I’m listening, I am strong.

I’ll remember that my job is to grow into who He made me to be and while I’m doing that, to love.

To share.

To remember where I get my strength.

And to use that strength to manage the mishaps and weather the worries and surrender the sorrows so that I’ll keep standing.

I’ll keep standing and I’ll keep lifting and I’ll keep pushing and I’ll keep hefting…

All the way up to my final lay down.

JULY 2016 177

Great is Your faithfulness oh God
You wrestle with the sinner’s heart
You lead us by still waters and to mercy
And nothing can keep us apart

Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough for me

~Your Grace is Enough, Chris Tomlin

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13