South From Alaska

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We drove south from Alaska near the end of May this year on a whim. Maybe I’m just tired of the winters. The darkness gets to me. Or maybe it’s just a classic mid-life crisis and the husband and I have sunk at the same time. Because in April when I said, “Let’s go south,” […]

Fireworks over Lake California 7-13-14

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      I am patting my own back over my July 4 fireworks photographs taken in Cottonwood, California on July 5, 2014. These are completely unmodified. I only shrunk them for upload, other than that they are just as they came from my camera. I’m so pleased!     Alaska Photography

Fishing For Elders

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Yesterday the kids and I found ourselves on the Ninilchik beach helping pull king salmon from the water to feed some of the village elders. Here on this same beach many years back, the natives of Ninilchik built fish traps and pulled nets much like us, feeding their families before there were grocery stores to […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 5-18-14

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Driving through British Columbia and Yukon Territory is like breaking into a zoo after hours and tearing down the fences. Animals roam everywhere, seeming to prefer the middle of the Alcan highway.  It helps to break up the monotony of the 40 hours of driving it takes to make it from Seattle to the Alaskan […]

Dreams Delayed

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In the spring of ’03 I had just finished up the third year of my writing degree at Linfield College. My fellow students were planning their summer vacations, jobs, going home to a family. I was raising one. One morning my professor handed me a piece of paper with a circled ad.  It was for an […]

My Kids Aren’t Learning Anything

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“Mom, I need some more language arts worksheets printed,” said my nearly 15 year old this morning, who needs her world aligned at all times or she gets frantic. Order, structure, neatly stapled packets are a dream come true and the chance to organize canned foods makes her heart go pitter-patter. “We’re not doing any […]

Must Be Nice To Vacation All The Time…

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I’ve been asked the same question many times these past months as we travel. “How are you affording to do this? Must be nice to vacation all the time…” There is no secret. We’ve not a pot-o-gold buried on our back forty and we’ve no inheritance paving our way across the western U.S. The fact […]

On The Road From Concan

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This morning the kids and I planned to wake early and leave our little cabin up the Frio River here in Texas. Yesterday we packed the pop-up, cleaned up the cabin completely, and left out only our duffle bags and breakfast food. Upon waking, I encountered a site that the family, as a whole, has […]

Y’All Come Back Now, Y’Hear?

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 “Whaaaat the blaaaazes are Y’ALL doing in Teeeexas?” I keep hearing over and over. Well, they don’t say it like that exactly, but my ears have been Texasized now so that’s how I hear it. Plus, I really like to use my new accent, even if it is just in type. Okay, here’s how it […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 12-15-2013

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This week we traveled over to Reno, spent two nights at Circus Circus in their mid-week absurdly cheap rooms, then we headed down the 395, eager to get out of the city. We camped two nights and spent three days between Reno and Mohave, landing tonight in a hotel because seriously….we were filthy and tired. […]

Bison Of British Columbia

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I’ve actually have nothing funny to say about today…which is good news since that means nothing bad happened. Good for us, bad for entertainment value. It’s late, we drove about 13 hours today through windy, mountainous, freezing, roads and we’re tired. We drove, we ate, we watched me cower behind the truck while a buffalo […]

South of the Border (Canadian That Is…)

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We bedded down last night in Tok, Alaska in a highway frontage hotel.  If I have learned anything on this trip so far it’s that there is no need for an alarm clock with five kids, three dogs, and two cats who are all used to the silence of the backwoods. Nobody sleeps through hotel […]

South From Alaska

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I was born a nomad.  In my forty-two years I have lived in 18 different homes in four different states and yet I feel like I’ve been stationary my whole life. My feet get the urge to wander and my family knows it’s time when I start thinning my belongings to a manageable heap. So […]

Locked and Unloaded

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I’m not an avid gun handler. I mean, I grew up lugging around a BB gun and could take out a Budweiser bottle as well as any filthy boy next door. I blew away ant hills and sabotaged unsuspecting spruce hen deep in the woods of Alaska late in the fall of my childhood. But […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 8-11-13

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Apparently we only have Sundays about once a month this summer…either that or I’ve just been TOO BUSY TO SIT AT THE COMPUTER! Probably, it’s the latter. But here’s a glimpse of the past few weeks. Alaska Photos

Photo tour of Homer, Seldovia and Tustumena Lake

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They say you never really know your area until you have company…or at least that’s what it seems.  This past two weeks my oldest daughter, Heather, and her boyfriend, Andrew, have been visiting from Oregon. SO we are playing touristy and seeing the sites.  These pictures come from our ferry trip across from Homer to […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 5-26-13

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This week Destini spent some time in Portland with my oldest daughter, Heather…the snow finally melted at the cabin and we started our summer of work (disguised heavily as play)…and I continue to fall madly in love with our new baby goat Pluto.  I never thought I’d be one of those goat people…I’ve crossed a […]

A Moostacle Course!

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We spent most of the day trapped in the house by two friendly bull moose who just don’t realize that next Fall, they may be dinner.  The mistake is, when they are babies they are so darn cute that we just ignore them…don’t try to scare them off. Well eventually they grow up and become, […]

Aurora Borealis March 2013

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Robin and I trudged through the cemetery in Ninilchik, Alaska in the week hours of the night on St. Patrick’s Day 2013 to achieve these pictures.  The auroras were floating directly above, to the north, south, east and west. They were everywhere. Robin lay in the snow on her back, reaching her hand up to […]

Ninilchik, Alaska Beach Of Winter

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  The kids and I made an evening trip to the Ninilchik Beach today under the false pretense that Spring was just around the corner and the sun that shone so brightly might ACTUALLY BE WARM!!!   We walked briskly, snapped quickly, and jogged back to the truck with frozen hands and toes. We’ll give it […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 2/10/2013

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An impromptu trip to Anchorage and a snoopy trip behind the Ninilchik, Alaska post office led to some icy photos this week. Also some timed night shots…I love playing with long exposure. [nggallery id=12]

Stalactites Of Winter

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When winter blends in to the fall that precedes And darkness consumes us and sunlight recedes Tall spears of ice, from the roofs edge they dangle Nearly to ground—a precarious angle.  ~ Through winters of wonder, they magically hold Till summer comes closer and Christmas grows old Near April the ice swords, wet, shiny round […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 9/30/12

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This weeks Scenic Sunday is created entirely by Robin Riley, age 15.  This summer Robin set her sights on a camera and did what it took to get it.  She babysat, cleaned house, and begged to save the $600. And you can see here why she was so eager to get her hands on it. […]

Settling In To Cabin Life

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My lantern oil just dimmed to nothing and left me in complete darkness but for the glow of my laptop and the internet box blinking green to my right. I see the hazy glow of Luke’s flashlight bouncing as he walks back in from the outhouse and another in the hall where Anthony pulls a […]

This Is My Land

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It was more than forty years ago that my in-laws, just after giving birth to their seventh child (my husband) purchased an acre of land. An escape, they said, from the L.A. life they found themselves living. Bud worked the assembly line at General Motors in Van Nuys, and Patricia worked in a medical office.  […]

Our Fearless Leader

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This is not going to be well written, of that I am sure. It’s late at night, I’m tired, and I have computer access for just a short time. I apologize ahead of time… The past few weeks have been very stressful.  We left behind our 7 bedroom home, moved completely out, cleaned it spotless […]

This Blog Is Not Real

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Last night a young lady with a history much like my children’s wrote me a message and asked for advice.  But before she asked, she spent several paragraphs telling me why she wasn’t worthy of my time.  “…as if reading your blog somehow makes me worthy of placing myself in your life,” she said. As […]

Boys In The Backwoods…

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I don’t remember being covered in bruises, blood and broken skin on a daily basis as a child…perhaps that is the key difference between little girls and little boys.  Then again, the way I used to roll my 3-wheeler down every dirt hill within miles, it’s rather surprising I made it through my eleventh year […]

Battle Scars

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Tonight while making dinner, the boys were swapping scar stories, as boys do. Steven showed off a rugged mark of a playground fall and Luke talked about a scrape from an old porch board.  Anthony nodded his head forward to show them one in his hairline and said, “My birth dad told me one story […]

Revival–by Anthony

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It’s about 11:30 at night and Anthony just knocked on my bedroom door to show me a poem he’d written.  This work will make more sense if you’ve read other things about or by Anthony.  See a list of links at the bottom of this page.  Here’s what he handed me… My memories are broken… […]

Another Mother

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I’m sitting here at 11 p.m. the night before Mother’s Day.  Anthony, age 11, is here with me. He’s sleeping on the couch tonight so we’re talking. I asked him what he thinks about on Mother’s Day in regards to his birth family. As he spoke, I typed word for word (my kids are used […]

Backwoods Bees

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When I was a kid in Kasilof, Alaska, there was a honey store about a mile down the road. We’d pedal down there, present our quarter, and get a sample of honey such that I’ve not tasted since.  This year, as we move onto our off-grid property and make an attempt at becoming more self […]

Blockbuster Babies

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My daughter Destini wrote this for a class this year…I thought it was really good so I thought I’d share. Destini is eighteen years old and a senior in high school.                 In most cases, “you’re going to have a new sibling” is a surprising, exciting, interesting, unusual experience […]

At The End Of The Trail

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As I sit in the Alaska dark, waiting for Spring, I can feel the grit beneath my nails, the sweat across the back of my neck and the ache of my arms after a day in the woods.  The course skin of hands, dry and stiff from the leather of my gloves, the grain of […]

They Pay Me To Live Here

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Whenever I tell people from the lower 48 that I live in Alaska, I inevitably hear the same question: “Don’t they pay you to live there?” It’s kind of like saying, “Why the heck would you live in that frozen wasteland? Oh yea…that’s right…they pay you.” They are referring, of course, to the Alaska Permanent […]

Damn Her

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  A while back I had Billy into the local clinic for a sports physical.  The doctor scanned his chart, did some quick work with his stethoscope, and said, “How long has it been since he has seen the heart specialist?” “A few years,” I said.  “They told me it was nothing to worry about.” […]


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Anderson Hill, near Ninilchik, Alaska… In celebration of our first completed week doing our schooling at home…and after all the kids were finished with their work…we hit the sledding hill down the road.  Billy built a jump…and it was all ‘downhill’ from there! Luke…has…no…nerve…endings. He bursts throug the jump…   Billy attempts snow boarding…   […]

Three Small Things

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Originally written in May, 2011…re-posting. A small brush fire near my home last night brought a trooper to my door saying to prepare for the worst…the wind was taking it our direction…be ready to leave without warning.  Warning. Wasn’t that what he just gave us? I went back into the house and gathered the children.  […]

Adoption Day

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In February of this year our family grew by two when Steven and Luke came to live with us.  Tomorrow morning, the 19th of December, 2011, we welcome them into our family permanently in the Homer, Alaska courthouse. These guys aren’t complicated kids. They don’t understand the size of the world and they don’t know […]

The Shield Of Confidence

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  In 2004 I graduated with a 3.89 GPA from one of the highest rated private colleges on the west coast.  And I did so, while parenting eight children, six of whom had some kind of special need.  My final semester I managed 25 credits at two different colleges, picking up some missing credits at […]

A Trip To Good News Bay

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I put in a call to a client a few years back to arrange a trip into the village of Good News Bay, Alaska, where I would assess an adoptive situation and write a report for the courts either approving, or denying, the potential adoptive placement. The young woman who answered the phone sought to […]

Children Will Remember

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As parents, we spend our lives trying to be good enough.  Trying to keep up.  We worry that we’ve failed.  We worry that we’ve screwed up our kids to the point of no return because somehow we’ve not been good enough…as parents.  But let me explain something. Our children will not remember their childhood the […]

It’s The Little Things…

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It’s the little things that get to you. It’s the, “Not Me” that always gets blamed.  The Birds and the Bees that needs explained. It’s the cookies hidden beneath the bed.  The fifteen millionth book to be read. The science fair project that’s due tomorrow.  The hand held out, wanting to borrow. It’s the crusty, […]

The Root Of All…

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This morning Anthony asked if any of his birth relatives had been approved for visits…like an uncle or cousin.  When I asked why, he said, “I’d kinda like to know my roots.” Roots. By definition the root is the foundation.  It is the beginning, the base.   It is the fundamental cause or essence of something…the […]

Sawmill Saga

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In August, shortly after we purchased our 40 acres, we acquired a portable band saw mill with the intent of creating our own lumber with which to build our own home. But first…knowing we couldn’t afford to complete a home this year nor did we have time to begin with winter nearing…we decided to build […]

Whaling Away Her Youth

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Photo courtesy Charles Lampe-Kaktovik, Alaska Yesterday Sandi’s daughter, Kendra, climbed into a twenty foot boat with a group of close friends and family.  They pushed into the Arctic Ocean off the shores of Kaktovik/Barter Island…the only permanent settlement in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the North Slope of Alaska.  They scanned the waters and […]

Alaska Log Furniture

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For more than twenty years I wanted to know how to make log furniture…I’m talking cut the tree down, pack it out of the woods, custom, from scratch kinda log furniture. Not the neatly perfected pieces you find in most furniture stores. I’m talking backwoods…Alaska style. So last summer I did it. Now, mind you, I have […]

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

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  Four years ago…don’t be fooled by that cherubic face! Anthony got a citation at school today.  He walked in the door and without hesitation explained to me why it wasn’t his fault and the teacher was wrong. She always is. I’m surprised she still has a job with all the times she’s wrongly disciplined […]

Why Off-Grid?

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We turn the handle, water flows from the faucet.  We flip a switch and a light goes on or off. We flush a toilet, crank the thermostat, open the fridge…and voila, magic happens. And then we all get three days off and we spend it sitting around a campfire, looking up at the stars, listening […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 09/04/11

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This week in my life I… Was thankful for lots of nice milling trees… Was thankful that DAN had to limb this one, and not me… Realized that logging is a painful job… Thought, if only we had 50 logs like this…our cabin would be done… Got back into the swing of packing school lunches… […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 08/21/11

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This Week In My Life I…. Watched the Kenai Peninsula Fair Racing Pigs in action… Had the most amazing food at the AKSupper Club in Ninilchik…(highly recommended) Seriously…phenomenal food. Chef Paul Warner…amazing… Made some new friends… Saw oysters for the first time in my sheltered life… Ate a raw oyster right from the shell…did I […]

Yardwork…Backwoods Style

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We took possession of our 40 acres off-grid this week and as is our style…dug right in.  With no time to waste before winter and Dan working half his life away from home, we have about four weeks of actual time on the land before we have to start to buckle down for winter. Our […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 08/07/11

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This week in my life I….took only pictures of my new land we’re developing…so I thought I’d share some photos I took last year on the Homer Spit beach.  These guys let me get pretty close…Enjoy! 🙂

Just Another Scenic Sunday 07/31/11

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This week in my life I…. Staked out my home site where we will begin to build our new home… Wished I could see this boat in it’s prime… Visited Homer Harbor… Saw a mama eagle and her baby (right) Watched my kids work together… Taught Robin to love the weed whacker…and to wear pants […]

Resurrection Trail — aka Trail Of Terror

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 Written summer, 2010…warning…this piece is long…but worth the read (or at least look at the photographs of true Alaska wilderness.) We were eighteen steps down the trail when Anthony announced he had to go to the bathroom. And not the easy one. Blood pressure rising so early in the day, Dan unclipped the boys backpack […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 7/24/11

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  This week in my life I….. Hung out on the river with my bff… Dip netted some salmon…lots of salmon… Explored the beach and wondered how boats get on land… Wondered why clams are so attractive to so many… Visited the boat launch during a wind storm… Learned the small boy can do standing […]

On The Kenai

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Ignore the cheesy grin…I’m much better behind the camera!                         I’ve spent the last two days at the mouth of the Kenai River dip netting Sockey (Red) Salmon from a boat.  It’s my version of “I’m broke so I gotta get food somewhere” and […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 7/17/11

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This week in my life I…. Watched my billionth Ninilchik sunset… Enjoyed Summer… Went to the Salty Dawg Saloon in Homer with friends… Was thankful this toothy guy was dead… Watched the tractor launch take up some boats… Smoked a bunch of salmon… Was glad I wasn’t THAT guy… Found some beach treasures…again… Told Sam […]

The Unfixable

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He was fifteen when he came to me.  And even on the first day I knew he couldn’t stay. I knew it wasn’t the right fit… he was broken beyond repair and a danger to the other children. I could see it in his eyes…he was ruined. I know that sounds callous…but it’s the reality. […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 7/3/11

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This week in my life I…watched Billy shock himself when he discovered he could do a standing back tuck… Started a new wood project… Accidentally created the lower 48 and Alaska… Served a new kinda customer in Destini’s coffee shop drive thru… Sold some fishies… Created a fishy assembly line…reminded me of my cannery days… […]

Moose Attack!

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Object in this photo is closer than it appears… I first noticed her in the distance, blending in to the swampy foliage with her thick brown fur.  She moved through the forest nearly silent, long legs fluid beneath her, as my dad and I crunched loudly through the mossy undergrowth.  We stopped.  Figured we’d stand, […]

I Cry In The Bathroom

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I write these sad stories about my kids…about their survival and their trials. About their successes.  And my readers cry out, “Good job, mom!”…or… “Where would they be without you?” And I’ll accept the compliments with one raised eyebrow as I think, “They did it despite my failures half the time…”  But I acknowledge my […]

My Lost Boy

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Written in February, 2007… Edited in June, 2011, for confidentiality…               As I step into the small room I am greeted with the smell of boy.  It’s a common smell to mothers.  Dirt and candy.  The boy’s room is like other eleven year olds; even if he’s not.  I plop his clean clothes down on […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 6/26/11

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This week I… Witnessed intense concentration… Nearly had a heart attack…but grabbed the camera first… Made a friend…then accidentally squished him and was sad… Visited a friend… Rafted on the Kenai River… Watched kids bond…and bounce… Took kids to the cabin… Let go and let God… Saw summer bloom… Watched this guy for a while… […]

Kenai River Rafting

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The great thing about life jackets…everybody has the same square figure…   The last time I was rafting on the Kenai River, a bunch of us folded an old Avon raft over the top of a tiny car, threw in a cooler chest of questionably legal beverages, and spent the day pulling to the bank […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 6/18/11

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Enjoyed the drive to Anchorage This week in my life I…. Witnessed love at first site… Watched the kids have basketball camp… This is how Alaskans use their fish totes… Enjoyed a beach memorial… Saw the largest cigar I’ve ever seen…and strangely, enjoyed the smell… Played with fire… Witnessed mischievousness… Watched some eagles fly… Realized […]

I Am From…

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In school this year, Billy was assigned to create a video called, “I Am From” that told the story of who he is.  Each slide was supposed to start with “I Am From” and there were requirements as to what kinds of pics he had to have.  Some modifications were made by his teacher, because […]

Father’s Day

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With Father’s Day upon us, I’ve spent some time trying to put together a piece about what makes a “father” become a “dad”.  I’ve scribbled down some poetic mumbo-jumbo.  I’ve come up with some passable ideas.  But the more I thought about it, the more frustrated I became, wondering…what is the definition of a good […]

My Overcoming One

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The tiny boy with the bright blue eyes Looked up and said to me Can I live here a long, long time? Three months, if you’d agree. Three months? I said, to the blue eyed boy That isn’t long you see, For an eight year old to have a mom… A dad…a family. He looked […]

Robin Wonders

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I rarely talk with my long term kids about their early childhood in front of the other kids.  For some reason I’ve always hesitated…I didn’t really know why.  But one day I told the story of when Mya was a toddler and she was afraid of the moon outside her bedroom window.  We all had […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 6/5/11

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This week in my life I…. Pulled a small stick out of Robins leg… Wondered why people leave garbage on the beach…even if it cute… Walked with friends… Found some cool beach treasures… Taught the boy what a magnifying glass is really for… Took away the magnifying glass… Watched the kids get crafty in the […]

This I Believe

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My daughter, Robin, came to us when she was six years old.  We were her tenth family.  This year for a school project she created a piece for a website called, “This I Believe”.  This is her story, completely unedited. THIS I BELIEVE By Robin Riley Ninilchik Middle School, 7th grade There are kids in […]

And Justice For Ally

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She felt the pull of death and it was welcome.  She lay silent, worn from screaming, her voice unheard as she lay in the shallow box.  She saw him coming, smelled him above her before he came into her blurred site.  She didn’t curl into herself.  She couldn’t.  There was a time when her body […]

Just Another Scenic Sunday 5/29/2011

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  This week in my life I… Watched an egg toss go wrong… Saw intense tug-o-war… Stuck up on Billy… Saw twelve of Ninilchiks kids become adults… Witnessed Love Made some stuff… Worked on some fishies… Overlooked Ninilchik Village at sunset… Saw some wobbly-legged newbies… Thought about what it’s all about… Remembered the past… Was […]