Tough Goodbyes

My wonderful mother-in-law, Helen, died last month. We knew it was coming as she had both Alzheimer’s and cancer, but it happened much more quickly than we expected and it was devastating nonetheless. She was an awesome grandmother, mother and mother-in-law, and we have not been able to accept the fact that she is no longer here.

Daryl’s dad took her loss very hard. He was wracked with grief. Family members took turns visiting him and helping take care of an infection on his leg, and on Monday he fell and needed to go to the ER. We spent the day in the waiting room anxiously awaiting news (they wouldn’t let us back because of Covid) and Daryl got to briefly see him before he was transported to one of the only open ICU beds in the state. He was doing well, despite having a pint and a half of fluid drained from one lung, and we were making plans to move him to a rehabilitation center when things went wrong very suddenly and he died Thursday night.

None of us has any doubt that he died of a broken heart. He and Helen were married 65 years and he didn’t want to live in a world that didn’t have her. That said, we’re all having a very hard time coming to terms with living in a world not just without her but without him too.

Chester was a war hero (he was badly injured in the Korean War and insisting on going back once he recovered, then survived another attack that killed every other member of his platoon and left him with lifelong PTSD — he spent the rest of his life giving talks to schools and community centers about the realities of war and working with younger soldiers who were dealing with its effects), a mayor, a fire chief, a die-hard volunteer for every cause in the community and one of the nicest people you’d ever meet. He loved to tease and he was the toughest guy I ever knew. He and Helen hand built most of their house when they needed to expand it for their growing family, side by side.

My parents died many years ago and Chester and Helen were our kids’ only grandparents. They were two of the most important people in all of our lives. It’s been a hard 3 1/2 weeks.

Our family has other news that is actually very good in these tough times, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Rest in peace, Grandma and Grandpa. Thank you for being so awesome.

Kicking Off Another Homeschool Year

We’ll be officially starting our 2020-21 school year on Tuesday, the day after our 24th wedding anniversary and some sort of family wedding (you might remember we get married anew each year around this time in a new way).

This year, Jack will be in 11th grade, Alex will be in 7th and Fiona will be in 3rd, officially anyway.  We don’t really pay any attention to the numbers other than when we fill out our reporting forms.  We just keep up with them and keep it at their levels in each subject.  Of course, Victoria and Rhia have graduated.  They live in houses nearby, though, so we still get to see them lots.

I’m hoping to do more unit studies this year, even with their wildly different grade levels.  We’re starting off with some haikus this week.  I found some very old Japanese haiku poets whom I fell in love with and I want to do a family haiku reading each day and some writing (improv and not).

I’m sitting down to plan this month today, using the scope-and-standard lists as a general guideline and for inspiration, but following interests and the way the wind blows.

Jack already does Khan Academy and Duolingo every day, for math, grammar and Spanish.  He sets his own pace and picks his own rabbit trails.  He has a streak over something like 500 days in a row on Duolingo and he did have several hundred on Khan Academy until our internet went out one night and he lost it.

Fiona, Alex and I were doing Duolingo but lost our interest last year.  We’re planning on starting up again and Alex already did on his own.  He’s begun striking up conversations and asking me for food in Spanish again, always a sign that he’s back to practicing.  🙂

Science is Alex’s big love and he does tons of that on his own, mostly online and in projects he dreams up.  I’m planning to do lots more to meet his insatiable need for more science this year, involving the other kids with a lot of it, too.

Music is a big part of our lives these days.  We have “family jams” often and have binders full of music and lyrics so we can all play along.  Jack plays ukelele really well and also plays guitar and a few other instruments.  Fiona is learning ukelele.  So far, Alex and I mostly sing along.  I love the piano but need to get it tuned and to get serious practicing.  Daryl plays an insane number of instruments, all self taught, and Rhia (who’s in her own house now, half a mile away in the house Toria and Gabe bought for $4,000 three years ago) plays the guitar and ukelele really well (self taught, too).  I don’t think Toria (in a new house with Gabe and a friend, also purchased in cash like their old one and like ours, just a block and a half from us) plays anything, but I could be wrong.

We’ll be doing lots of reading, lots of science, lots of nature studies, and lots of hands-on learning, as always.  I’m going to keep up with our impromptu spelling and to do more writing with the boys (Fiona does tons of writing on her own already). Life skills will be a big part of what we do, as always.  I love the fact that my grown kids can get by on so little because they’ve learned foraging, gardening, DIY, thrifting, making and frugal living so well.

Fiona would like to take gymnastics but I’m not sure what things look like in that regard right now with Covid.  They’re holding the classes as usual.  In our little corner of the world, there’s not much that’s different other than people having to wear masks inside most places.  She loves doing cartwheels, wants to learn lots more, and is desperate for some time around other kids.  We’ll see what we can figure out to meet her needs. It may involve some creativity.

And with that, I’m off to get back to my canning (copious amounts of roasted spaghetti sauce and not nearly enough applesauce so far) and to keep my promise to play Timeline with Alex and “have quality time” with Fiona.

What’s your homeschool year looking like so far?

Review: How to Hold Animals

I was taken in by the adorable cover of the upcoming book How to Hold Animals by Toshimitsu Matsuhashi. I thought it would be a whimsical and helpful guide to holding animals for kids. It is designed for kids and adults, written by several Japanese men (a pet shop owner, a veterinarian, a reptile handler and a wildlife photographer) but I cannot describe it as very whimsical.

I was able to read a digital Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of the book from the publisher.  After reading it I can’t say that I recommend it.

I actually really felt bad for the animals in many of the cases. It focuses mostly on the specific animals these men seem to encounter, with a major focus on reptiles and bugs especially. It starts with a little blurb about how children should be encouraged to hold animals but I don’t even agree with this. There’s really no reason a child needs to learn how to catch and hold a dragonfly, butterfly or other insect easily harmed by being held.

Our kids frequently hold butterflies that we raise and release or encounter in our gardens, but they willingly crawl onto their fingers or land on them.

The kids never restrain them or pinch their wings shut like this book demonstrates. There’s also no reason a child needs to learn how to hold a dangerous animal that has painful bites, kicks or stings (or in the case of prairie dogs, is one of the best ways to still catch the plague in the United States!).

I’m just baffled as to why I would want to teach my kids how to catch and hold a scorpion, a monitor lizard or an alligator snapping turtle. Many of the descriptions tell kids that the animals are likely to bite and it will be painful or there will be a lot of bloodshed.

The end section has animals that are especially dangerous like anacondas and crocodiles.  It tells kids not to hold them but it has pictures of the author holding them all and still gives advice about how to do it.

I liked the section featuring the vet the best. Those animals struck me as typical pets (rabbits, dogs of different sizes, cats, hamsters, etc.) and it was good advice about how to hold them to treat them as a vet, how to not get injured, and how to make them feel safe.

The wild sections and the exotic pet sections seemed far more exploitative of the animals and just left a bad taste in my mouth. If the book featured the vet then I’d probably give it 4 stars, but that was only a short section and the other sections really seemed unwise, unsafe and sometimes inhumane.

Yes, kids can learn how to grab insects and reptiles in the wild and hold them without hurting them, but how many attempts will it take before they get the knack, and how many creatures will they harm (and bites and stings will they incur, in some cases) before they get it down? It’s not necessary. Leave wildlife alone and take a picture, or just watch them and let them be on their way.

How to Hold Animals  (affiliate link) by Toshimitsu Matsuhashi is expected to be published November 3rd 2020 by Scribner.  While I would recommend the vet section for helpful information for holding pets (and an injured owl), I have serious reservations about the advice pertaining to capturing and holding wildlife.

I read a digital ARC of this book for review.

A New Little Pond

We have a shady part of our back yard these days, thanks to a little tree we planted from a bucket that the city gave away 25 years ago when we had just moved in, which is now a massive maple tree that shades most of the back yard.

That space was once roses, delphiniums and other flowering perennials, but now it’s too shady.  I tried putting our big farmhouse table there last year but I didn’t like it in that spot, so I suddenly decided last month that we needed a wee little pond.

I never would have thought of putting in a pond, except that I have a fountain that Daryl got me for Mother’s Day a few years ago and it always needs a new pump each spring.  This year, he accidentally got the wrong size and I said that we could just dig a hole and put an old kiddie pool in the ground and make a pond with the extra pump (moving water from pumps doesn’t just make a sweet little fountain, it also keeps mosquitoes from laying eggs, so you really want a pump in your pond if you ask me).  And then I thought, hey, I wonder how much it costs to just get a cheap plastic pond liner?

It turns out it doesn’t cost much at all, so we ended up picking one up at Home Depot for around $30 and putting in a pond.

Alex decided he wanted to do all the work, and that’s not the sort of thing I’m ever going to argue with.

We rimmed the outside with rocks from around the yard (we collect big rocks from our journeys as sentimental landscaping).

I’ve since added plants and more rocks around it, and it’s become a really sweet little peaceful area (I’ll try to snap a proper after picture soon).  The kids like to sit with their feet in it and I have a hanging chair nearby where I sit and just listen to it gurgle.

It was a fun, inexpensive little project!

We’ve Survived the Plague

Well, that was an interesting spring.  We took a family trip to the Mall of America for homeschool days at perhaps the worst possible time, just as Covid-19 was quietly invading the country.  We stayed in a hotel, went to IKEA and Trader Joe’s, took in all the sights at the MOA (Sea Life, mini golf, laser games!)…. and brought home more than the souvenirs we’d planned.

Jack got sick first, with a terrible cough, fever, fatigue, etc.  Coronavirus was barely on our radar at that point even though I had joked about “going to the biggest international tourist destination in the midwest at the start of a plague.”  Yeah, perhaps I shouldn’t have thumbed my nose quite so much at fate?  😉

Corona gives you very rosy cheeks

In any case, Alex got sick for about a minute and was better.  Fiona developed a high fever, stomach ache, sore throat, cough, etc. and was sick for about a week but never dangerously so.  Jack got better but had lingering fatigue and muscle weakness (especially in one leg) for literally months.  Rhia and Daryl didn’t really get sick at all, even though I was very worried about Daryl since he’s older and disabled.

And I… good grief did I get sick.  Wowza.  It pretty much leveled every system in my body.  I had so many weird side effects that it felt like it was gaslighting me, since the news certainly wasn’t reporting things like numb toes, bursting blood vessels in your legs, phantom heart attacks, tingling limbs, hypothermia (my body temp dropped to 93.7 twice) or your body inexplicably forgetting to breathe when you fall asleep, just to name a few of the weirder manifestations.

I spent over two months doing breathing exercises (I cannot recommend those enough to protect your lungs, prevent pneumonia, calm anxiety, decrease blood pressure, increase lung capacity and raise your oxygen levels), drinking massive amounts of water (ditto, cannot stress this one enough), taking hot steamy baths and medicating round-the-clock with kitchen/nature remedies that I used to manage and conquer the whack-a-mole of symptoms that is coronavirus.  Daryl foraged me nettles every morning for weeks to make me strong nettle tea and I also relied on fresh garlic (you must finely mince it and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before taking it to activate the alicin, and then remember to take it 2-3 times a day just as you would meds), elderberry, ginger (a very potent antiviral that is also excellent for many of the parts of the body this attacks), apple cider vinegar, fermented foods and drinks like kombucha, etc.

Two months into my illness I finally was able to see my doctor and she told me to keep doing “exactly what you’re doing” because all of my levels were so high for things like iron and white blood cell counts.  Now three months from our initial sickness, Jack and I are still recovering (he is still weak and tires easily, I still have some numb toes and muscle/joint pain) but we’re firmly in the post-viral phase of recovery and long past the terrifying actual illness.

I have found a lot of ways to find the blessings this gave me.  I learned a lot about the honestly impressive power of affirmations, meditation and deep breathing, and the importance of finally prioritizing sleep, stress relief and real self care.  I spent time every day on our roof balcony doing light yoga and stretching and getting sunshine for vitamin D.  I went for walks and bike rides with the kids to make sure I got light exercise every day that I could (there’s about a month that’s pretty much a blur though). I’ve lost weight and toned my body.  I gave up coffee and lost my hot flashes in the process.  I gave up wine for a month or two but Daryl and Tiffany convinced me that it would be okay if I wanted to imbibe again and boy, did I want to after all that.  🙂  I spent my time doing things I enjoyed like reading and reviewing books, working in the garden, watching Netflix and Hulu with the kids, and spending quality time with Daryl.  And we all made it.

It was intense and there were some really terrifying times (I’m intentionally skipping over the scariest stuff).  Don’t underestimate this thing.  But boy do you appreciate the little things (like being alive) when life reminds you how lucky you are.

If you or someone you love is sick with Covid-19 and you want more detailed information on the best resources I’ve found, let me know.  I found that the media and most websites were really worthless for the most part, but there are a few helpful sites out there and I can round them all up if it’s helpful.

Stay well and hang in there.

Rhia and I Have Published a Book!

Rhia and I have published a children’s poetry book together!

It came about because Rhia loves to draw these adorable mushroom doodles (among others) and I told her they were so fun that they ought to be in a children’s book.  She suggested that I could write some poems to accompany them, and we decided to do a joint children’s book together.

It’s filled with poems that are silly, sentimental and occasionally educational, all about mushrooms, nature, fairies and other related topics.

We had so much fun doing it, and I’m so proud of our finished book!

You can check out the book on amazon here: Poems from Under a Toadstool (affiliate link).



A Week in Nebraska

I’m just going to jump in like I’ve been yapping regularly all this time and not bother to try to catch up at the moment.  🙂

We’re back from a week at Tiffany’s in Nebraska, and it was just what we needed.  I took Alex and Fiona in my new(ish) Nebraska car that I got last summer.  (I jokingly call my cars Nebraska cars since I rarely drive other than going to visit Tiffany, and it’s been a few years now since I had a “Nebraska car” or vehicle of my own.)

We escaped the snow and bitter cold of Minnesota for far less snow and more bearable cold of Nebraska.

Fiona and Millie were inseparable, as always.  When we’re all home in our separate states, the girls spend much of every day video chatting and playing “side by side” that way, so it didn’t seem to them as if they’d been away from each other at all (they are video chatting again right now as I type, as a matter of fact).

We didn’t do a whole lot, which is mostly the point when we go.  We sit around under cozy blankets and read books and do crossword puzzles, drink copious amounts of British tea, help Tiffany walk and play with the numerous dogs she cares for, and play cards and Pictionary into the night.  It’s wonderfully laid back and rejuvenating.

Tiffany’s Jack (now 17!) has been going to the local public school for the past couple of years since they have really fantastic programs for kids with Downs Syndrome, so he was gone during the weekdays.  Once he was home, he and Alex had great times playing Wii and Minecraft,, practicing basketball and hanging out, too.

We did some crafts to use up some of Tiffany’s craft supplies and had fun painting (this was my sign to remind myself to say yes to more, in all kinds of ways).Jessie even did a couple of fantastic tarot readings for me to practice her craft (she’s started a tarot business that is going really well).

Escaping to Nebraska is always just what we need.  I’m now ready to face reality for at least another month.  🙂

Wild Kids Magazine

I’m not sure if everyone who follows this blog knows or not, but I’ve been creating a free online printable nature magazine, Wild Kids Magazine.  The August issue is out now if you want to take a look.

It’s always free and printable (in PDF format), generally around 16 pages.  Every issue has pages for nature logs and also foraging information and specific monthly themes.  It’s ad-free and I pay for it myself.  So many folks visit the site every month that it’s been costing about $25 in fees a month for my web hosting on top of what I pay annually for the Magical Childhood site that I added it to, but I am looking at it as a charitable donation I’m doing to help make the world a little.  🙂

Also, if your kiddos would ever like to submit photos (of themselves or nature finds), artwork or (especially) articles or poems, please send them in!  I’d love to feature most content from other kids.


(Almost) 10 Ways We’ve Played and Learned Lately

I haven’t done one of these lists in so long, so I thought I’d try to do a quick one (like I have ever been able to in the past?!).

Here are a few ways we’ve played and learned here lately……

1. We went to Valleyfair, an amusement park in the Twin Cities, for their homeschool days.  I brought Fiona, Alex and their friend Cody.  It was a fantastic day!

2. I’ve been publishing a free printable nature magazine for kids this year, Wild Kids Magazine, and Fiona especially enjoys it.  I’ve had Alex and Jack write articles for it, too.  As soon as I print it, Fiona grabs it and sits to read through it.  It has nature journal pages where she can track the birds and animals she sees that month, color botanical coloring pages, keep track of the weather for each day of the month (coloring in a weather tree) and such.  She also loves that she often spots pictures of herself and her siblings in it.  🙂

3. It’s always been a struggle to get Jack to want to write, so we’ve compromised and I have him lead his younger siblings on D&D campaigns.  He writes out all the information, stats, maps, etc. on a giant whiteboard.  He also reluctantly keeps a private journal, just so he has a little bit of regular time writing and recording his days.

4. Fiona has been working on telling time, along with a.m. and p.m.  She has a little workbook I picked up at the dollar store that has you do things like put times in order from first to last, choose whether to use a.m. or p.m. and write in how many minutes past the hour it is and how many minutes to the next hour.

5. We went hiking with friends at a nearby park with a waterfall.  We try to go there a few times a year and it’s such a magical place.

(almost) 10 ways we learned and played lately6. We’ve spent a lot of days at the lake, especially with Rhia, Fiona and Moose.

7. Jack had a suspicious lump removed from his jaw by his parotid gland.  The doctor thought it was just a cyst but because of Toria’s parotid cancer in the same spot, we wanted to be especially cautious.  He had to be put under for the surgery but came through it well and the tests came back negative.  This wasn’t fun at all, of course, but it was educational and was a pretty big thing for Jack.


And as I was blogging this, Fiona came and asked me to go play in the rain with her.  I told everyone else to go play in the rain and Alex finally reluctantly went, and I realized that I never want to be the kind of mom who says I have to finish blogging instead of playing in the rain with my kids.

(No photo because I was playing, not taking pictures!)

So I left the blog and went and ran in puddles and played in the rain, and now we’re wet and I have hosed off a shrieking little girl in the shower and a grumpy 12 year old took his own shower to hose off the mud (meaning 5 minutes longer he had to wait before running outside to play with Cody) and I have to get supper on the table before they all leave for rehearsal, so you don’t get to know what 8, 9 and 10 would be.

Okay, I guess one of them would be that we played in the rain.  🙂




A Happy Little June Update

I’ve decided to go back to blogging here even though I know that nobody really reads blogs (especially this one!) any more.  🙂  I love having the record of all that we did and all my wandering thoughts for all the years I kept it when the older kids were HSing, and I want that for the younger kids’ homeschool lives.

So here’s a quick little June update, and I’ll try to keep things up and just come here to check in regularly again.

Toria (21) and Rhia (19) have graduated but both of them are still happily part of our days.  Toria and Gabe still live in their house (if you remember, I bought it for $4,000 cash a couple of years ago and they have been fixing it up and paying me $200 to pay it off).  It will be paid off in a few months and they will own their own home, debt free.  It’s tiny and a bit of a wreck, but it’s theirs and it’s on four lots.  We had hoped to get their first garden in this year but life got busy.  They have a walnut tree and a pear tree, though, so they will still have some bounties this year from those.

Rhia is still living at home and is working on getting her photography business established.  She has some regular clients who like to book her for fun shoots (she’s very inexpensive so it’s an affordable splurge) and she is working on expanding to new clients.

You can follow her on Instagram or Facebook if you want to show her some support.  She’s been traveling a lot, too, and has gone to Oregon twice in the last six months.

Jack (16), Alex (12) and Fiona (7) are all in the Wilder Pageant again this year, along with Daryl.  This makes something like 15 or 16 years straight that at least some of our family members have acted in the pageant.  It’s always a lot of work but they make great friends and are part of something really special.  Opening night is July 5.

Jack is planning on working on a nearby farm again this summer.  He worked there last fall but was 15 at the time and was not able to work much during school days because of labor laws (homeschool kids aren’t allowed to work during public school hours by law, even if they school at other times of day or on other schedules).  This year he’s 16 so he can have a more flexible schedule.  It’s hard work but good money, and he’s developed a wonderful work ethic that makes me proud.

Alex’s friend Cody is here for the summer again from Indiana (he spends summers with his aunt, our next door neighbor), which is great fun for him and for Fiona too.  We took the three of them to Valleyfair for their homeschool day and had a blast.

We also got a new dog!  We adopted Moose from a shelter in March.  He is a year old and is a black lab – English setter mix.  He’s smart, energetic, playful and never met a dog or person he didn’t love.

There’s so much more going on, but this is already less than quick.  🙂  More next time!