Our friend Al

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The world lost one of its finest yesterday. And my, will he be missed.

Our friend Al (whom I’ve introduced you to time and again here on the blog, plus countless more on Instagram), ended his battle with cancer yesterday, after a fast and fierce run.

And my, will we miss him.

Al lived more in one season than most of us do in a lifetime. He lived with passion and authenticity and humor, and shaped the world for the better during his too-brief time among us. What an inspiration he has been for my kids, for Pete, and for myself. He made us laugh, he worked hard by our sides, and he taught us so much.

I can’t help but hope that an eternity of quirky inventions, bad puns, and off-grid magic awaits him somewhere on the other side. Complete with epic prairie burns, well-equipped workshops, and endless gardens in which to tinker away forever. (With no garlic mustard or honeysuckle to distract from other pursuits.)

Travel well, dear friend. This valley won’t be the same without you.


Camp Hygge

The kids and I slipped away for a little “Camp Hygge” time beside the river this week. We embarked last Friday for one week away: our small car piled high with too many books, too much food, and more knitting projects than we could complete in a year. And, of course, three sets of snowshoes and cross-country skis.

We brought board games and sourdough starter; art supplies and wool socks; read-aloud books and bags of yarn. Everything we’d need for a hyggely week away from home, snuggled down in the northwoods at my parent’s cabin.

While it has been a snowy winter, we honestly had no idea how much snow would greet us upon our arrival. I can’t recall the last time we’ve had so much snow! Thigh deep! (And I’m nearly 6′ tall.) So much show, like all of my childhood winter dreams come true.

Needless to say, we’ve spent much of each day outside–snowshoeing, skiing, making ‘camp’ in the woods, and building a quinzhee (our favorite sort of snow fort).

Then back inside we would go, for hot tea, comfort food, and time thawing out by the fire.

Each night, our sleep was long, well-earned, and deep.

On one favorite day, we packed up a can of baked beans, some cold sausages, and a few oatmeal cookies. We added matches, a hand saw, and pocket knives, then strapped into our old woven snowshoes and headed into my family’s woods.

We walked atop of the knee- to thigh-deep snow for some time, then, finding a sunny clearing in the balsams and hemlocks, we set to work clearing snow, gathering firewood, and making camp.

It was only a day camp, but cozy and homey nonetheless.

After a spell, our fire crackled, and our lunch sizzled.

We spent the day in our makeshift camp before extinguishing our fire, packing up, and returning home. We rolled back inside cold and damp, but well fed and contentedly tired, then warmed ourselves with tea and a fire in the fireplace.

After a full, delicious week away, we stumbled back home to the Driftless last night. So happy to reunite with Pete (this is a trip that just the kids and I take each year), Moose and Grandpa (the dogs), the barn cats, and this quiet valley we call home.

We returned much changed.

We are more sore and more fit; more fed and relaxed. We are simultaneously more tired and more rested than we’ve been in a very long while.

And all of it felt just right.

Back home, unpacking our cooler and our car, another adventure is behind and within us; another hyggely winter week enjoyed.

The scent of woodsmoke lingers in our hair, a memento from our magical time away.

A new addition

Despite all that I shared about Thanksgiving’s roots and deeper meaning last week, it is still a day my family has long treasured and spent together, focused on gratitude. With this in mind, we slipped away last week for a brief but lovely visit with my parents back at my childhood home.

I’m so grateful to live close enough that a two day trip isn’t a ridiculous prospect, and that we are fortunate enough to have my family to call on–during the holidays and every season.


We read aloud a couple of the books from the Decolonizing Thanksgiving book list, then dove in being helpful as best we could with dinner preparations. Lupine harvested some of my mom’s herbs, then bundled and labeled them and hung them up to dry. So sweet.


During the weekend, my mom pulled a worn gold ring out of a jewelry box, and despite not having seen it for nearly 25 years, I recognized it instantly. It was my grandmother’s wedding ring, and I slipped it onto my finger, awash with memories.

Later that night, knitting beside the fire, her ring was in context once more. Juxtaposed against my yarn and needles, the sight of ring and wool together transported me back in time. My grandma was the only knitter I knew as a child, and she (like me today) was rarely far from her yarn.

I suppose she’s at the heart of why I make.

Seeing that ring alongside my yarn took me back to a seat on the floor beside her chair as she patiently talked me through my first clumsy stitches. I watched as she expertly maneuvered the work in her hands. Like magic, those fluid stitches flowed off her needles.

Such a gift to remember her in this way.

And then… another gift happened.


This guy.

On our return trip from Thanksgiving, we detoured past a farm that we visited on our arrival trip as well. A farm with a single, sweet-faced puppy for sale.

We were smitten the first time we met him, so–logically–we brought him home.

This puppy pick-up wasn’t half so spontaneous as it sounds. It was a year-and-a-half in the making.

A short time after my sweet Charlie died, Lupine began asking in earnest for another house dog. We delayed while my heart healed, but the requests never slowed. A year passed, then more.

She asked weekly, sometimes nearly every day.

Finally, Pete and I decided that we were ready (all of us).

And so, for her 12th birthday, we gave her a book on dog training – this favorite – (afflink) and tucked a coupon inside for a dog or puppy of her choice. Upon reading it she shrieked with joy, disbelief and tears in her eyes. That night as she drifted off to sleep she whispered,  “I can’t believe you gave me a puppy. This is the best gift in the history of every gift that has ever been given to me. In. My. Life.”


A girl of my heart, she was set on a golden, but when we saw this goldendoodle (half golden retriever, half standard poodle) she was sold. We’re not poodle fans per se, but loved the idea of a golden’s personality crossed with another breed to provide some hybrid strength after losing Charlie so young to kidney failure. The fact that they’re touted as hypoallergenic and non-shedding didn’t hurt his case either.


This little newcomer’s name has changed a few times since coming home… first Moose, then Fredland, and now O’donoghue, after our favorite pub in Ireland.

I think this last name is going to stick.


And this little face? Yeah, I think we’re all pretty smitten. Welcome to the family little guy. I hope you love it here.

10 favorite family read alouds (ages 10 and up)

I’m over on my other blog, Happy Healthy Family, today sharing our family’s 10 favorite read aloud books. It’s possibly the longest standing request I’ve gotten here at CLEAN: “What books does your family love?” At long last I’ve compiled a list.

If you love this list please tell me! I can share more book lists as well: for parenting, homeschooling, homesteading, coming-of-age/puberty, and more.  Just say the word and I’m happy to share more of our favorite resources.

But for now, let’s start with family favorite chapter books. Pop on over to see what we’re reading now, and what our favorites are that we’d love to share with you.

Find our list of favorites here.

6a010535f3a090970c01b7c900d4a8970b-640wi.jpg(That’s not a chapter book. I know. But it’s the only read aloud picture I had!) 

A few days away

Wolf RiverHas it truly been two full weeks since I’ve popped in to say hello? Good gracious. In almost a decade of holding this space, I think that’s unprecedented.

Perhaps it’s simply that life feels like a bit too much of a flurry these days, and something has to be set down now and then to leave more time for the very best bits.

Since housekeeping was long ago abandoned, it was only logical that the blog would be next.

But such pauses are often temporary. And here I am this morning, with more stories and photos from our messy, quiet world.

20180708-DSC_376820180706-DSC_357120180706-DSC_357020180706-DSC_354620180706-DSC_357620180706-DSC_3559KnittingIn that same spirit that caused me to step away from this space for a time–that of capturing this fleeing moment and holding it close while we can–Lupine, Sage, and I slipped away for nearly a week at my family’s cabin up north.

I’m feeling the need to savor these fading days, now more than ever. And our annual cabin trip is a summer tradition. One that I missed last year for the first time, on account of the book I was writing, when Pete and the kids went without me.

I was determined to not miss it this season.

20180706-DSC_357420180706-DSC_358920180706-DSC_363620180706-DSC_3596Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 7.27.06 AM20180709-DSC_377220180709-DSC_3809Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 7.27.22 AMPete stayed home to button up some loose ends and projects here on the farm, and the kids and I embarked last week.

There were wandering hikes to takes and raucous swims to have in the river. There were early morning foraging adventures balanced by a trip to our favorite up-north thrift shop. There were days bookended by iced coffee sipped on the dock with knitting after sunrise, and quiet evenings spent around the campfire, tired from a long day in the sunshine and fresh air. There were art projects and nature discoveries and read-alouds and long, deep nights of sleep.

There were all of the things that make this simple family tradition so very special to all of us.


We rolled back home yesterday (after spontaneously extending our trip by a day, like we so often do). And home, complete with Pete and our pets and our cozy beds is every bit as delightful as our time away.

Travel is good like that, isn’t it?

With leaving home and coming back delicious in equal measure.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, we have some unpacking (and, indeed, some housekeeping) to attend to.



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Glimpsing this sweet moment last night did all sorts of funny things to my heart.

Because most days lately, this swing hangs empty.

Yet it feels like only a heartbeat ago when, one summer evening, the four of us crafted it from a sturdy plank and our old climbing rope down in the barn. After we strung it up in the maple tree, it was rarely vacant.

The speed at which life and childhood unfolds is ever accelerating, and some days I’m just barely hanging on. There is such profound beauty in their growing, but it is tinged with a whisper of grief.

Because nothing has shaped me more than this chapter – never have I found more important work than this.

Never has life been more real, more delicious, more brimming with magic, or more raw.

I’m not sure I’m ready to let that go.

And I wonder… who will they be when they’re grown?

And, in the same breath, who will I?












I have played more rounds of hide and seek with my family in the past week than I have in the past eight months. There's something about the early spring thaw that brings out the little kid in all of us, and for that I am glad.

We can't get enough of walking to the creek, in particular. Putting down our to-do lists or projects or studies, and setting off to see what we can see. Are the beaver dams are holding? Is the dry gully running? Has the last of the ice finally let go?

Yesterday we heard the return of the sandhill cranes and also the first of the red-winged blackbirds. This is, perhaps, the earliest I remember hearing them in all of my life. It made for a bittersweet mix of delight and worry at the sound of their delightful calls. 


As I write this, Sage just woke, made tea, and joined us by the fire. His first question was, "Can we walk to the creek after breakfast?" 

Such is the nature of spring.

He's pouring over some wild edibles books at the moment, researching cattails and chicory and trying to find something we might harvest, though there's still ice in the valley. Spring fever of the very best sort. 


A few nights ago, before bedtime – when we normally curl up by the fire with books and yarn and colored pencils – the kids begged us to walk to the creek. It was late and we were tired, but the moon was calling, and the owls and coyotes had much to discuss, and childhood was slipping through our hands.

And so we said yes.

Yes to a moonlit walk through the last of the snow; yes to five rounds of hide and seek on the frozen ground.

When we returned to the house, my face hurt from lying on the ice under the bailer, awaiting being found; my belly hurt from our shared laughter; and my heart ached at the beautiful and delicious impermanence of it all. 

Spring reminds us to savor, does it not?

Savor, friends. This day, its simple gifts, and the deliciously fleeting chapter in which you stand. 










Last week I hastily filled a backpack with clothes, grabbed a laptop loaded with work and a basket of knitting, then climbed into my parent's camper for an impromptu cross-country road trip. Pete and the kids stayed home to tend animals and keep our home and life humming along in my absence. 

In the child's role for the first time in decades, I was the passenger once more: riding in the back and watching the scenery unfold alongside the highway. It would be my longest time away from my children ever, and my first time crossing as state line without them. In all we would cross four, heading all the way to Texas in just 3 days. 

The last time I drove to Texas (unbuckled and riding in the covered back of a pick up truck, as one did in the '80's) I was 9 years old and we were heading to Houston for a family wedding. 35 years later the cast of characters was much the same, but our reasons could not have been more different, as we headed south to attend an untimely funeral and to be there for our family whose lives had been upended by grief.

Though I did not know the young man who died, I did know those who loved him, and wanted to be there for them. That is one of the reasons that we gather: to support the grieving, to remember what it means to be a community or to be a family. I wanted to do what my grandma would have done and stand with them in their sorrow, for whatever comfort that might bring.

Before leaving home, I found a sweater that my grandma once owned, and packed it to wear to the funeral. It was the closest I could come to her, some kind of a matriarchal talisman, symbolically pulling her closer when her family needed her most. 

My sister flew in to meet us, and there were were, the four of us once more, packed into my parent's little camper and remembering what life was like when we were small.

In Texas we reconnected with aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins – some of whom we hadn't seen in decades. We shared tears and laughter, stories and grief, and more hugs than I could possibly count during our brief stay. 

And what struck me most profoundly was this: we are so very different, my family and I. In our lifestyles, our values, our beliefs, our politics. But in that moment of reconnection and sorrow, none of those things mattered.

Because beneath all of it we’re family, and we showed up when we were needed. And that was more than enough.

Back in Wisconsin after a whirlwind 7 days on the road — my thoughts ping-ponging between my family in Texas and my family at home — I returned to tackle-style, bone-crushing hugs and peals of laughter from my own kids. Instead of unpacking my things we spent yesterday morning on a family date to our local coffee shop. We spent the day playing board games, sharing stories, and cuddling up beside the wood stove. Then last night, when the boys had run to town, Lupine and I bundled into our snow clothes and trundled outside in the darkness and falling snow for sledding by headlamp until long after bedtime. 

And I savored it all.

Because more than anything, this trip left me feeling profoundly grateful for the things that matter most: my children, my parents, my partner, my family – and our simple, joyful life. So much more than I did just one week ago. Perhaps sometimes it takes a dark reminder to illuminate how fortunate we really are.

Life is fragile, loves. Hold your dear ones close. Love them with abandon and without condition. Make time for each other. Go sledding; tell stories; look into their beautiful eyes. Do all the things you have longed to do but have been putting off.

Make the time, do the things, and above all hold them close. Because the only thing certain is today.


And I'm certain you won't regret it if you do.












Sometimes words fail me completely.

Today is certainly one such time. So I'll just dive in anyway, and hope to find them as I go.

Nearly three months after his diagnosis with anaplasmosis (and later kidney failure from this tick-borne disease), my beloved Charlie gave up on his fight with illness. He waited for me to wake yesterday morning, then quietly died in my arms on the hill beside our house.

It was a long and painful fight that led us there, and I'm thankful for him that his suffering is finally over. But the other truth is that I can't recall a time when my heart has felt so irreparably broken. Perhaps things are harder to understand when they come out of sequence. Maybe if he were old this would somehow be easier to accept. (Charlie was only 4.) Or maybe it wouldn't make a difference at all.

I do know that my house has never felt so lonely as it did last night, when – with Pete and the kids still in town – I returned alone to an empty house. 


My Charlie. He will be missed. Oh, my will he ever be missed. My constant companion, my side-kick, and yes – my very best friend. 


Safe travels, sweet Charlie. May many rabbits await you in the tall grass on the other side. 





A book list


You've been asking me for years: to create a booklist of my favorite reads on a variety of subjects. Books to inspire the leap into homeschooling or a first foray into herbalism; books to nurture a slow and mindful childhood and books for Earth-based celebrations. And when I saw my friend Ginny had set up an Amazon Bookstore I thought it was a lovely idea! Such a simple way to gather each of these categories together in one tidy place.

So last night before bed, I set up the LuSa Mama Bookstore and created a few collections, just for you. It was such a delight to look through my bookshelf and recall our favorites from when the kids were small and note which books never made it into the donation box, desipte our having outgrown them.

Currently I have divided the collections up into the areas I receive the most request for suggested reading. I'm open to additional suggestions as well! I began with the seven categories below –

Homeschooling - books I love for beginning (or reinspiring) your homeschooling journey;

Herbal Exploration, books to inspire the budding herbalist; 

Peaceful Parenting, encouraging you to parent from the heart;

Favorites for Young Children, our very favorite read-alouds from years gone by;

Books for Older Kids, from craft and science to how our bodies work, these are books we have enjoyed in more recent years;

Raising Global Kids, books to take your family beyond the bounds of your own culture and community (I'd love your suggestions for more titles here!);

and Earth-Based Family, secular celebrations and nature-based traditions.


I will add more categories soon, including homesteading, holistic health, and crafting. 

The way the bookshop works is that if you purchase through my link (or alternately buy anything else on Amazon within 24 hours of clicking through) I receive a small commission. You, of course, pay the same amount as you would have otherwise.

That being said, if you simply use the bookstore as a shopping list for your local independent bookseller, all the better! Local for the win, I say.

Do let me know what you think, and what I'm missing! I'll add a link to the right as soon as I can so you have an easy way to find it when you need it.