Wildfire smoke suffocated the last days of August. Our valley an endless, disorienting, gray haze that hid the mountains and the sun. We woke in the mornings with sore throats and headaches. Ash rained from the sky, blanketing tomato leaves and picnic tables with gray layer of burned up tree. We stayed inside a lot, where the air was barely better.

the sun, 6pm

I found the greatest relief in water. The invigorating, cleansing purity. Jumping in electrified my skin with goosebumps, washed the smoke out of my hair and felt like a giant gulp of fresh air. Submerged, I occupied an unpolluted, hopeful suspension.

The day before school started, I felt desperate to be out of the haze, away from homestead duties, having fun with my daughters. We couldn’t escape the smoke so we drove into it, through it to one of our favorite little lakes.

Ruby and Margot were tucked into the back, eating cinnamon rolls the size of their head, Mabel between them.

Ruby: Margot! Smell my feet! I think they smell gross!
Margot: No way sister. Hey, mom do you think the earth is light or heavy?
Ruby: So heavy. Except light, depending. On gravity or something.

The smoke grew thicker, visibility diminishing. We passed a fire crew camp and I thought maybe this was a bad idea. But kept driving thankful for my car’s air filtered air conditioning, thinking – at the very least – we would drive to the lake, jump in and head home.

Turning down the dusty, cracked dirt road toward the lake, Margot was the first to notice the air lighten a bit. Helicopters flew overhead fetching buckets of water from the valley lakes, hauling it into the mountains where the flames thrived.

At the lake, the wind blew just right and we landed in a tiny patch of clean(er) air, letting enough sunlight through to cast shadows. Shadows! We hadn’t seen shadows in over a week.

Oh mama! It’s perfrect!

I smiled at one of Ruby’s very last mispronunciations. Just last week she asked for breakfast and broke my heart. I will forever miss breakfrast. And I hope she forever says Lake Maroony Ann instead of Lake Mary Ronan.

We finished Little Town on the Prairie, had a cartwheel contest (I was a strong contender but decided to give the glory to my kids. ahem. “Mama I think you need to, like, practice more.”), ate melon, swam, found cool stuff like feathers and crawdads, threw rocks and sticks, listened to loons, remembered when I lost my sunglasses in the outhouse and fetched them out, journaled and really had the most fun.

In this new season of motherhood, where both my kids are in school and I have this giant expanse of time, I have some plans for this space and my work. I am happy to report that the change all feels good and right – for all of us – at the moment, which I am so damn thankful for. Thank you for supporting me in the times these last few months when I felt so unsure and sad about the impending change.

The first plan I am excited to announce right this minute is that my daughters and I are embarking on a grand adventure in a little over a month: we are driving from Missoula to Chicago, stopping at several of the Little House sites along the way. These books have profoundly influenced our family and I am thrilled to travel this path with my girls. We will then fly to New York to meet up with Andy for a wedding, followed by a week in the city. Do any of you have ideas or must-see/do things you’d like to share with us? We’d love to know your favorite museums, hikes, food markets (we won’t be eating out much but please tell us restaurants too!), coffee roasters, anything at all! Thank you in advance.

Here is a rough map of our journey there (the route back will look a bit different – open to suggestions – and will involve flying from New York to Chicago and then driving home):

We’ve been dreaming and planning this for a long while now and it isn’t all set in stone just yet (is anything ever?) but I believe saying it out loud is a good step in making it happen. It’ll all be perfrect.

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Braid of Change

We’ve been living well this summer. Lots of camping, swimming, playing. Being, breathing outside. I often say that I am at my best when in nature and it’s true. I believe it for my kids too. And I believe it for us, together as a family. I say we don’t subscribe to any particular faith but do: The Church of Outside.

In the tent, Margot still pinches Ruby in protest of her wearing her hair just like her big sister. On the river, Ruby still turns inside out when she feels a thing is taking too long. It’s not like the journey into the wild alleviates all our suffering. But it all feels so much more darling and manageable out there. We escape to a microcosm where we can’t get away from anything (and yet we are away from everything!); where building a castle out of river rocks with the sibling that just hucked a Go Fish! deck at your head is the meditative answer.

I am always completely honest here and this next subject will not be an exception: I feel dread over the start this year’s school start. Yes, I feel excitement and joy with and for my kids, but me in my selfish little brain and heart? I ache with this change. The truth is, even though my daughters are perfectly happy growing taller and getting older, I’d push the rewind button if it were available to me. Without even checking in with them or my husband.

August 26 marks the end of 7 1/2 years where I’ve been with one or two kids most nearly all day, every day. During these first years of motherhood, I have discovered a deep well of fulfillment, peace and mission. The entire trajectory of my career and lifestyle bent with their births in the most surprising and satisfying way.

Well-intentioned friends are quick to remind me that I write and make things and the expansive time of a school day will feel like mimosas on a mountaintop to my creativity. My autonomous siren will be all “Heyaaaay you sexy six hour chunk of time! Wanna have a threesome with the laptop? I’ll bring my attentive self and so much coffee. Let’s go for a run first. We will get shit done.” They remind me that it’s good for my kids to have enriching experiences without me. My imaginings of their unfiltered thoughts are cut the cord; don’t lose yourself; chill on your sentimentality sister. 

I’m not afraid of being alone in our home, or – more to the point – I am not nervous about “what I’ll do with myself” when I’m not with my girls. I look forward to throwing my guts at some projects that have been brewing in my brain for years, waiting for the time…holy shit. This time.

photo by my friend, Sarah

Margot can suddenly swim many laps in the pool and is trying out for the Sound of Music. She’s reading and wants a bikini. She reminds me of an elk. Ruby can climb any tree on this planet. She can make any human laugh, any animal want to cuddle. She reminds me of a caterpillar.

Maybe angst is one strand in the Braid of Change. Nervousness, twisted together with fervor and courage makes a strong rope of Most Things Worth Doing.

I said up there that I’d rewind time if I could but I’d never trade tomorrow for yesterday or vice versa. It’s not wholly true and a silly exercise anyway because – thankfully – we have as much control over the order of time as we do the number of freckles on our daughter’s cheeks (53) and at what age our hair goes gray (32).

Sometimes being in my brain is just plain uncomfortable. Right now I am feeling all the feelings over this impending adjustment. My Braid of Change is more akin to a messy fishtail that’s been camping for a week. And because I plan to camp for the rest of the summer, I am embracing the practicality of the dreadlocked ponytail and focusing on this here: my kids are confident, smart and adventurous. My job is to support them in themselves. They are ready for everything. They are thrilled for school. I am thrilled to watch them shine light on everything in their paths. Go.

Let’s stop thinking about it so much. Let’s just live it up.

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We are all just covered in worm poop anyways.

I mean to get up at 5:30. To go for a run and get some work done before the kids woke. But I keep re-closing my eyelids until 6:40 and then I have 23 minutes – just enough time to make a coffee and sit to think about what I want to do before my kids wake –  when Ruby stammers down the hallway, river-water-bedhead ablaze and ready.

So, instead we dive into bagels with cream cheese and again when big sister wakes. I sew and email around pinning capes over shoulders and reading books.

Mama can we design and make this dress today? I think it will be really easy!

Hold on, babe. I have to finish this and then I really want to see your design.

Mama I am STARVING. I have never been this hungry in my life. I know I had two breakfasts but I think I have two stomachs and this one is empty.

Ok, love. I’m on it. One sec.

Mom! Look! We made a list of all the things we want to do with you today and tomorrow. But if we get to them in three days, that’d be alright too.

I love this list and I love you. I hope we get to so much of this.

Mama my sister jumped right on my heart! I seriously feel like my actual heart is bruised! Or maybe even broken! And it hurt my feelings!

Come here and snuggle and then we’ll go talk with your sister.

Mama, I need your help finding that pink sock with the kind of white stripey things. I saw it last winter and I really need it right now.

I don’t know that sock. I will keep a look out. Can I help you find another for now?

Moooooooooom! You said you’d make more food! Aaaaaaahhhhhhh…

On it. Coming.

The morning is demanding of me from all fronts. This is the meat and potatoes of work-from-home challenge for me. My kids know I have to get things done but my work is so nebulous to them. Their dad leaves and comes home; his work is a romanticized mystery. I am “always working” as Margot recently noticed out loud. After I pulled the dagger out of my heart, I over-explained to her that my work is at home and allows flexibility and freedom and I choose this to be with her and her sister more. She got it. So did I.

This morning, I work and mother as best I can. And at noon I say,

What do you want to do? Let’s go.

We decide on a picnic of almonds, apples, graham crackers, goldfish and jolly ranchers. And picking huckleberries.

We unravel as we drive north. Cake plays on the radio and I know all the words. My kids are awestruck.

Windows down, from the valley floor brown to high alpine green.

I need your arms around me,
I need to feel your touch,
I need your understanding, I need your love,
So much

I should get the oil changed, I think. And rotate the tires.

So mom we turn left and then right? And up? Right again? This looks so different without snow. It makes me kind of sad. I miss winter.

We turn corners, more corners over washboard, a dust cloud behind our aging car. My kids squeal with joy. I smile big. Ten and two.

I need to remember to order envelopes when I get home. I need to pick peas, prep that order and haul recycling.

Mama do you know what I don’t like about fire and death?

What’s that?

They can both happen at any moment. I mean I could die right now.

Well, yes.

But that would be, like, super rare.

Yes. (long pause)

Anyway, I wonder what the rarest pokemon card is?

You tell me that you love me so,
You tell me that you care,
But when I need you,
You’re never there

We pass one car. He waves. I love that people always, always wave on Montana back roads.

On the phone,
Long long distance,
Always through such,
Strong resistance

Mom, how do you know these words to this song? I’ve never heard it. Can you turn it down?

When first you say,
You’re too busy,
I wonder if you,
Even miss me

Mom you know what I don’t get? If you open your mouth there’s no blood pouring out. But if you cut yourself, blood pours out. Also, what exactly is a tornado?

Never there,
You’re never there,
You’re never, ever,
Ever ever there,

I suddenly wish for the Cake album I gave to Goodwill 10 years ago. And Weezer. If you want to destroy my sweater, hold this thread as I walk away. And Violent Femmes. Let me go on like a blister in the sun.

Things lift as we ascend. Windows down, sucking air into the metal container that carries us up and into.

Mama, can I look through your purse? Do you have a book in there or something? I want to find something that confuses me. I like figuring stuff out.

We park and walk. And walk. And enter. I tell my daughters we are foragers. I define foraging and they make up songs about foraging as we wander in search of the little navy blue berries.

Margot. Don’t move. Don’t talk. And then butterflies and crickets will come to us.

We find them on a slippery shale slope. We each fall at different times, giving the other two an opportunity to stand strong and help the fallen upright. The girls wear leotards, mismatched socks and side ponytails. With skirts in my back pack, *just in case*.

We spend hours up there, wandering and wondering and collecting. Foraging. Ruby proudly, carefully collects all her berries in her basket. Margot ditches her basket and elects to eat as she goes. Ruby falls and spills the whole lot. We help her pick them up but they’re dusty and busted open. She’s heartbroken. And Margot bemoans her own empty basket.

Pride and anguish are cousins.

Margot says she’s happy to have eaten her share because she feels good and can’t spill. Ruby says she’s ok with what we couldn’t pick up because maybe her berry seeds will grow more huckleberries next year.

And besides, she says. We are all just covered in worm poop anyways.

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hump day nuggets: full-on(ly)

When driving up to Flathead Lake last weekend, Margot said,

I am totally, full-only so excited for this weekend.

(pronounced like full on lee)

And, just like that, full-only is my new favorite descriptor of commitment. The Full On! of the 90s needed to turn into an adverb.

Our good friends just got a boat and for two weekends in a row we’ve been the lucky tag-alongs. Perhaps it is their increasing strength and confidence in the water, perhaps it’s my increasing awareness of the preciousness of our cool, clean water, perhaps it’s because my life for the last seven years is about to change with my youngest starting kindergarten in two months. Whatever the case, I’m noticing it all. The strength, confidence, water, the time leading up to our daily rhythm changing.

I am so happy to have had Ruby at home this last year, schooling by my side. It went even better than I could have imagined: she thrived and learned, I thrived and learned. And, we have decided to enroll in public school this fall. I haven’t responded to many of your questions about our educational choices because it is a subject that belongs to my daughters and because we are figuring it out as we go — fully (full on-ly) aware (and expecting) that what feels right for our family can change. For now, our local school is right. We do plan to homeschool intermittently over the next years. And, of course – as my husband always reminds me when I am spinning out over what is best for us (oh I do think about and read about this all so very much) – we always school at home through our own love of learning and desire to be and grow with our children.


:: Mermaids.

:: Always the first one awake.

:: Over dinner a few weeks ago, we developed a family summer mission statement. In an effort to resist the constant conversational flurry of “Summer is flying by!” and “I am so busy!” I sought a slower-paced naming of what it is we want during this season of long days and bare-shouldered outdoor adventure. It started as a conversation but I grabbed a pen and started recording our thoughts.

I asked questions like

What is one thing you want to do with each person in our family?
What is one thing you want to do at home?
What is one thing you want to do away from our home?
When school starts, what feeling do you hope to remember about our summer?
What do you want to learn?

Our mission looks something like: camp, swim, garden, read, write, make art and play — just the right amount, while striving for peace and ease throughout our adventures.

The “peace and ease” goal is a reminder that we want a healthy balance of getting out there and hunkering down. Not stressy. Not hurried.

:: I love camping. Scouting a flat spot for the tent, living well with very little. Teaching my kids to sharpen sticks and dig holes. Sunscreen, beadhead, same clothes over same bathing suit. No mirror, no cell service. Kids contentedly playing for hours, days with rocks and sticks and water and imagination. Falling asleep so tired in the silent, wondrous wilderness. Waking to piles of feet and paws, sun rising inside our tent. Sharing it all with Mabel, missing Alice deeply. My husband’s perfect cup of coffee, and again. And his smooches when our headlamps clink.

:: Journaling.

:: I arrange rocks. Wherever I go, I collect and sort and move them around for hours. Always have. I worked on this piece for an afternoon and left it for the next next person who washes up here.

:: A special deal for you from dig sponsor Popina retro swimwear. Hands-down my favorite bathing suits, Popina specializes in vintage swimwear that fits and lasts. My swimsuit criteria: stay on my body in a strong river current, hold shape against jumping dogs and climbing kids, give support in all the right places (got boobs? Two thumbs up: VampGrace and Gina).

After trying three different suits (Popina’s customer service is outstanding!), I decided to go with another Vamp. The Jantzen bathing suits are tough to beat. I adore the sexy little skirt that gives a just a bit of butt coverage, the thick halter straps that don’t dig into my neck and the way that puppy doesn’t move around, even when I dive into a lake. Also a cool feature of the Vamp: a fitted mesh suit is under the top you can see; the fit is spectacular.

♥ Popina is giving one of you lucky ducks a suit! 

Simply leave a comment here for a chance to win. And, they are generously offering you 15% off with code CANUDIGIT. Go for it! You deserve to feel like a queen in your swim skivvies. You won’t regret your purchase. Thanks, Popina!

Comments closed! Coupon code remains valid. Randomly selected winner:

Congrats Becky!

:: “Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful. Everyone knows this, but no one can do it.” – Lao Tzu

:: And on the note of the beautiful quote up there: I woke at 3am last Sunday morning to horrid screaming. NO! FUCK! GET DOWN HERE! over and over again. I was in our tent with my family, on an island. I woke Andy. He ran to get our friend and together they went to help whomever needed it. I thought we were the only ones on the island. Andy had grabbed our only headlamp; we forgot the others. I lay there listening to screaming and roaring wind but then realized it wasn’t windy. Our tent, perched up on a cliff top, wasn’t moving. That is water, I realized. Huge waves yelling into the night. Andy was gone forever. An hour? My phone was dead. An hour and a half? What if he fell in. What if that person was a crazy murderer. Oh the relief I felt when I saw his light ambling up the hill. He explained the scene: a big boat, on its side up against a rock, full of water. A woman pinned between a log and the rock. A man chest-deep in water with five-foot swells pushing him into the boat. A little girl watching in terror. Matt and Andy carried a full-sized driftwood tree across the island and levered the boat up onto land. They tied off the boat. It is destroyed. Everyone is ok. Our friends’ boat – the one we rode in on – on the other side of the island in a protected bay, didn’t even move. We spent hours the next morning getting ourselves and that family safely to land. Matt and Andy made a run to shore with gear and brought back Jim, a man they met who filled his boat with gas and motored out to our island to fetch the shipwrecked family. Their boat stayed behind, beat down by that soft, embracing lake with rainbow stones and rainbow skies.

:: Wildfire smoke is rolling into our valley. Before everything is clouded, I plan to take deep breaths, run on trails and study the clear sky. Full-Only.

my husband can fly 

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It’s hot. Make coconut rice with peas + sage.

It’s summer. I don’t recall a time when temperatures were 104 degrees in June, when fishing was halted for the season, campfires so cautionary, the creek’s water feels like August.

Tomatoes reaching to hold garlic’s twisted hand, kale leaning on cabbage’s shoulder. Flea beetles feasting on potatoes and beans. I plan to blast them with some chrysanthemum love this week.

I shared a photo on instagram a few days ago with this caption

Summer dinners must be ready in 7 minutes or less: fresh baguette oven-toasted with hummus, pesto, sharp cheddar. Piled with lettuce and arugula. Barely blanched peas, Cherries.

This season – with it’s sunset frisbee, playing at the creek until 9, falling into bed smelling of the sun and the earth – well, I don’t take much time to cook. Thankfully, this season – with it’s bounty of fresh food at the ready – allows for easy, delicious dinner in a few minutes. Maybe more than 7, but that’s a good thing to shoot for.

I am inclined to start a new series of Simple Summer Dinners but I think I have proven I am not much the serial type. There was Hump Day Nuggets, In My Grandma’s Kitchen, Heirloom Kitchen

I miss those series a little bit. I think I like the structure until I don’t. Or maybe I get distracted by other, more pressing things in my brain. The truth is I have piles of stories I’d like to tell, recipes I’d like to share, etc. Maybe someday everything here will be tidy and contain my thoughts as they unfold. But I don’t think so; really, that’s not honest for me. Life seems to tug me deeper into the woods, further down stream, higher up the mountain. For now, the woods, the river, the mountain — they keep my ideas safe.

Anyway! I made a simple rice number that got the thumbs up from both kids and grown ups, several times over. In fact, Ruby asked if we could have it every day for the rest of the summer. I told her it is a deal if she promises to pick up the 317 tiny pieces of paper she cuts and tosses all about the house every day. She’s thinking on it.

Coconut Rice with Peas & Sage
serves 6 as a side dish

2 cups jasmine rice
1.5 cups coconut milk (our favorite coconut milk)
handful chives, minced
2 cups peas – I used peas from the garden but frozen peas would work fabulously too
5 fresh sage leaves, chopped
olive oil

Place rice, coconut milk and 2.5 cups water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook until done. The secret to good rice is in how it sits after it cooks. Turn cooked rice into a bowl and do not stir. Let it cool for at least 20 minutes. 45 minutes is even better. The time to sit preserves the delicious, delicate clumps of rice. Stir too soon and you get gummy slop. Prep the rest while it cools.

a peek at our new kitchen floor!

herb scissors here

If using snap peas, devein (grab end that was attached to vine, snap off and pull to remove the string along the long edge) and cut into thirds with scissors. Place peas, chives, sage, a few tablespoons of olive oil and generous pinch of salt on top.

Fold ingredients into rice and serve at room temperature. Or chill; it’s great cold too. We like with with hard boiled eggs and a big salad of greens, kale, feta, sun dried apricots and apple cider vinaigrette. Try with scrambled eggs and sriacha the next morning. Or fold it into burritos the next night.

my favorite serving tool: the large flat saute made by my pal Earlywood; use code DIGWOOD for 10% off

After a quick, fresh and healthful meal, get back out there.

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