Category Archives: Homeschooling

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.



Library Day

Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to live at the library. The smells…the shelves…the order…the WORLDS.

I wanted to read every single world that was tucked between all those covers.

When my babies were little they’d kick off their shoes and curl up on the floor with a stack of books as tall as they were.

I taught them how to find books, how to love books, how to write books, how to learn with books, how to lose books. (Only $22 in overdues this trip!!) when my eldest hunts the aisles for a title he’s been dying to read, one of my favorite books of all time, a 900-pager of an epic, Lonesome Dove.

How my heart smiled when my ten-year old comes to find me with two copies from the grown up side that relate to her latest science curriculum and the passion of her heart, animal care.

To hear my youngest politely ask the librarian if she could help him find the latest release from an anime series his big sister introduced him to made me beam. My big little boy is a bona fide biblovore now too.

My eldest girl brings the wish list she prepared on her iPad and busies herself finding them.

And when she makes her way back to the table and I ask her if she found what she was looking for, she says “No. But I did find some. Just a few this week, but it’ll hold me for awhile.”

And I think yes…yes, that’s exactly what these good stories do.

They hold us for a while.


“I have always imagined that paradise will be some kind of library.” -Jorge Luis Borges

Do you love the library as much as we do? Tell me what you’re reading this week!

Bigger and Tireder and Come Unto Me

He said Come unto Me all you who are weary and I will give you rest.

He didn’t say Come every Wednesday or Come unto me even though you’re exhausted or Come unto me or else we won’t be friends anymore.

He said Come unto me all you who are weary…

And they don’t tell you in the pregnancy books that there comes a time, way past the first roll-over time, way past the sitting up time, way past the solid foods time, and wayyy past the first-steps time…


There comes a time when it seems a little like it did when there were babies in the house, and a little like it did when there were toddlers in the house…


But it’s all a little bit different and a little bit bigger.

Because they’re bigger.


You should be tougher but you don’t feel much tougher.

In fact, when you talk to mamas just a wee bit older than you, you might whisper it to them quiet and confidentially and maybe even with a hint of a doubt in your tone while you secretly hope that maybe they’ll understand.

You really hope they’ll nod knowingly and that they won’t tell you that you’re wrong. You hope they’ll hug you and say OH HONEY YES.

It’s harder than it was.

It’s just a different hard.

You feel somehow weaker than you did even though you never ever thought you’d feel weaker and more vulnerable than you did with no sleep and no makeup and milk streaming down your chest and soaking through your shirt and onto your mattress and into your days while the beautiful baby just screamed and screamed and constantly needed a new diaper.

You’re tired.

And that just seems so wrong because they sleep all night now, a long teenager’s sleep late into the morning for their growing bodies if your day can spare it, so a full eight or nine is your delight, and most mornings even a leisurely cup of coffee is yours before they arise…and they do work now, real work that makes yours easier.


But they take more of you now.

More mind muscle. More money. More miles.

They take up more space.

In your house.

In your head.

In your heart.

There are more of them and they are bigger and it’s just all bigger and a little more overwhelming but you’re older now and wiser now so you handle it better but handling it better makes you tired sometimes and it’s a different kind of tired.

And sometimes coming unto me looks a lot different than what a mama thought it would way back when they still napped in the middle of the day and still needed you to buckle them into their car seat.

A quiet time isn’t always ever a quiet time, and me-time doesn’t work and long ago when they were toddlers I cut out a magazine piece that said me-time comes when the babies are grown and now that mine are almost there I see.

I see how it is that I don’t really feel like taking that me-time anymore unless they force me, and now that more than two of them fill a room while college and jobs and future fill their horizon…

I’m glad my me-time revolves around them.


It means saying no sometimes.

It means that I actually had more time for friends when my babies were babies and we could all get together over diapers and coffee and Cheerios and Boppies.

It means that pulling in to them instead of pulling away needs to be my daily priority.

It means that I may lose outside opportunities in order to stay inside the circle of these years.

It means that my growth might actually be watching them grow and that is what my job is right now.

It means that I might have to work through the new ages and stages and grow right along with them.


It means that I might be lacking for folks outside of here and seem shallow when in truth, I’m growing deeper and broader in my care and attention.

But a mama still needs come unto me and thankfully, He stands and He knocks, and what a comfort…what.a.comfort. to know He’s there.

That He is always there.

That when my quiet time is driving-down-the-road time, He doesn’t abandon.

He’s there.

That when I’m extra busy or frazzled or full, He doesn’t condemn.

He invites.

That when I forget, He doesn’t write me off.

He gently prods.

That when I’m exhausted, He doesn’t shame.

He comforts.

That He loves.

That He forgives.

That He encourages.

That He holds.

That He stays.

And that unlike this time that rushes…that goes…that hurries…

He doesn’t.

He still says come unto me and when I’m weary and when I’m burdened and when I’m heavy laden…

He doesn’t pressure but He waits.

And He gives rest for my soul.


“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing remains
One thing remains

Your love never fails and never gives up it never runs out on me…your love…it’s your love…

On and one and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never ever have to be afraid
One thing remains

In death and in life I’m confident and covered by the power of your great love
My debt is paid there’s nothing that can separate my heart from your great love

Your love never fails and never gives up it never runs out on me…your love…it’s your love…God it’s your love.

~Jesus Culture

Maycomb and Bookstores and Teenage Boy Readers and the Best Book Club I Know

An open letter to my book besties in the smallest most bestest Facebook Book Club ever:

You guys, you may not forgive me but here goes.

I haven’t read our book this month.

In fact, I probably won’t ever read Ready Player One.

I’m still working on Townie, a book I started on JUNE 8th (can you BEEELEEVE it’s taken me over a MONTH to finish this thing?) and can’t quite get to the end of, but I’m too close to the end to NOT keep going to the end.

And then…

We just had to go on and go to the bookstore in Homer yesterday and I saw my boy’s hands reach out in front of him and gravitationally lift toward Go Set a Watchman on the upper left corner of the top shelf and I watched his brain count up the money he had in his wallet and quickly realize that it wasn’t quite $27.99 so he sat right down and read four chapters in the half hour I shopped and took selfies with my book and chatted it up with the owner of the store.
065 (4)On our way home we checked the mail, and there it was, Go Set a Watchman, the copy I’d ordered last week from Amazon.

He wouldn’t let anyone else touch it and he didn’t put it down until twenty hours later at 4 p.m. today when he said:


Now THAT…was good.

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I build my platform and I think of Jesus and I haul them to 4-H meetings and I sip my red wine and I make land deals this week but really…

I have to finish Townie.

Because I have to start Go Set a Watchman.


Because I see reviews that Atticus is a bigot and I hear the news that he and Scout had a blow-out and my man-boy-literary snob is snorting in the back seat and volunteering to stay and watch the truck while the rest of us do a library trip and I see his eyes get big over the edge of the new hardcover that smells so good and

my whole family is waiting for me to start Go Set a Watchman.

After reading To Kill a Mockingbird out loud to them on our big road trip in April…

How could I not read this to them in August?

How could I not read it to ME in August? Or this, the last week of July?

So between my mother being here from out of state and needing the attention of good company…

…and between our farm life being in full swing with fair prep and growing animals…

…and between the excitement of a new chunk of land that will cradle our homestead and even better a WHOLE ROOM FOR A LIBRARY…

…my stack of books seductively calls my name and as I dream of baskets of paperbacks that hold titles for yearly reading goals…at the top of the stack is our sweet Harper Lee with her hardcover that without knowing it, we’ve all been anticipating, and friends, I hang my head in book-club shame but I say it clear and I say it sure…

Ready Player One is never going to fit into my life.

I face it, own it, have come to terms with it, and now…

I’m telling you.

I bare my bookish soul and I face my bookish friends and I say I’m just not going to be able to read our book of the month, and even if I had time I wouldn’t because I can’t squeeze in one more book before I move on to Harper’s and it’s right there on the kitchen table while our other selection sits somewhere in the abyss of the Nook with the dark screen.

I won’t be able to chat and get excited and type answers in a bookish frenzy about the new favorite book we all love and the new favorite characters we all meet, and while I’ll miss that this month, I know you all understand.

Scout calls.

She’s right there.

Atticus beckons.

I can almost see him reading the newspaper in the parlor.

Maycomb begs entry and soon I’ll smell her streets.

And right after I finish Townie…

I’ll open the pages on this new one here and along with my boy…

…and his siblings and his dad…

….I’ll fall in.

Muskrat Mornin

We’re always having a little something fall into the window wells of our basement. Usually a shrew or a vole will plummet the heights of three-ish feet, and most times, we’ll end up finding it, all of us squealing at its cuteness and inviting it in to breakfast.

Well, not really, but there was the one time we thought the mouse looked scared and hungry so we fed it a small plate of scrambled eggs before we sent him back on his way.

All of the critters that have come to visit our basement from on high have lived, unless you count poor little Tippy, who we think must’ve suffered a terrible spinal injury in the fall and could only walk in a herky jerky circular motion once we freed him. Sorrowfully, we thought it best to end his little life as he’d have no chance in the wild, and my son did what strong men do and quickly and mercifully sent Tippy into eternity with the help of his Red Rider BB gun. {{Things sometimes get sad round here…}}

Minus Tippy though, every time something has been “discovered” in one of the window wells, we’ve captured it, released it, and sent it back into the wilds of our property, where they can roam free and wild, or get tortured and eaten by our barn cats.

Our dogs somehow have this keen sense of knowing when something has fallen DOWN THERE. They have a special “THERE’S SOMETHING DOWN THERE” bark and will pick up the yipping in unison and force us to come investigate. The household stops, we ooh and ahh over the cute fuzzy creature that has come to visit us by unconventional means, we strategize a plan of capture, and we delight in its release.

So much for a morning routine.

Never a dull moment as they say right?

So the other morning, the THERE’S SOMETHING DOWN THERE bark commenced right after clearing the breakfast table and the kids all muttered as they put on their jackets…sounds like somthin in the window well.

And sure enough…

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Except sweet little fuzzy little vole wasn’t what greeted us. I’d been tempted to fry up another egg and bring it to whatever mousy friend awaited us when I heard the yipping start up. But what greeted us was NOT a guest I’d want at the breakfast table.

MAY 2015 021It’s a MONSTER right?!

Okay okay, so it’s only a muskrat. But those sharp rabid teeth! That long creepy black tail! I had the urge to push my children back like a bouncer at a rock concert and get them out of the way of danger.


Then one of those babies, my man-child, he got right to work fashioning a noose out of paracord attached to a BBQ skewer (he said it was the only long thing he could find but I think maybe those sharp little teeth got to him too) and he and Annie went on recognizance.

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Then Annie had to go in the house because of course she wanted to eat it…

So little sister joined in the rodeo.

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And it soon became obvious that while my son has excellent noose skills, this muskrat knew how to slip a knot too.

It became time to break out the big guns.

That’s right.

The manure rake.

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After a fun little ride on the manure rake, and then hopping off to skip across the yard and enjoy a relaxing visit with our barn cat Joe while they both rested under our canoe, (our Joe is a lover not a fighter) the muskrat took us on a wild goose chase when we decided we should’ve put him in a bucket and relocated him to the pond up the road.

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A half hour later, panting and defeated, bucket empty, we decided we’d have to concede to Mr. Muskrat and let him run free.

We learned a few things.

When you capture a wild critter, put him in the bucket FIRST before you do anything else.

We knew this but our barn cats confirmed it. Watch your animals. They will speak to you by their body language. Both our barn cats told us which tree root the muskrat had gone under when they went rigid and their tails started twitching.

Flip flops are not a good option for wildlife chasin.

And I learned again what I already knew…

…that it’s true.

With kids…and dogs…and farm animals…and muskrats…

…there really is never a dull moment.

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Epilogue: My friend up the road texted me later in the afternoon to tell me she’d seen a muskrat scurrying quickly through her yard and out of our neighborhood.


All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all.

Not Quite But It’ll Do. For Now.

It was Fairbanks for poems then Juneau for horses and all I did in those quiet moments between busy when I wasn’t writing…

…was think about writing.

So much to write about.

The beauty.

The fun.

The growing.

The goodness.

But laundry calls and the animals are hungry and the sun is shining…

…and the chores they just won’t wait.

If I start writing today I just might not stop.

So it’s not quite writing these ten minutes of being here.

No, not quite.

But almost.

It’ll do.

But only for now.

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Morning by Morning…

The day started with a pre-dawn, wet-hair, icy windshield scramble because the dogs decided to take a joy run…

…and it ended with a post-sunset barn check after one of the minis decided to swallow the pointy shard of a popsicle stick.

And sandwiched in between was a truck full of errands, a missed trip to the feed store, an archery class, a trillion texts, the start of a new spelling program, two long phone calls, report cards x 4, a somewhat substantial owie…

…and Mama yelling loudly.

So when we got home…and we were all breathing steadily again, my little guy brings me this, his drawing:

10943026_10203933302033844_4700355220500889285_nAnd it reminds me…

“…what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

It’ll probably be the same kind of busy tomorrow.

But this…

…this is what my Wednesday’s gonna be all about.