Saturday, August 23, 2014

Coming and Leaving and Coming Back to Alaska

Howells have come and left Alaska four times over the past twenty-five years. Four times!

Time #1: Ken and his friend, "Uncle Paul" came in 1989, freshly discharged from the Navy, spent a month hiking and kayaking around, then left to come home to RI. Ken soon proposed marriage and the crazy idea of driving to Alaska and setting up our home.

So young.

So dangerous.

Time #2: I said yes and we began our trek, taking six weeks to visit places and hike along the way. We got to Alaska and poked around the state, then pitched our tent by the Salcha River outside of Fairbanks, heading into town each day to search for jobs and an apartment. We found a tiny place above an attorney's office and two minimum wage jobs, which we worked for six months before Ken decided to re-enlist (with the Marine Corps this time) and get some edgy-cashun. So we left for North Carolina. Because the Marines.

Welcome to Alaska, Allison!

Teen Challenge of Alaska (no longer there)
Driving north of Fairbanks

Time #3: Four years later, we came back to Alaska, this time with a baby boy, a theology degree, and a job directing the now-closed Teen Challenge of Alaska. When that baby boy was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, we left again after just one year to pastor a church in the mountains of North Carolina.

The truck was not moving. This was taken with a normal camera long before The Selfie.

Time #4: That disaster (See conversion story page above) also lasted one year. We packed up and came to Alaska again; now with two sons, two vehicles, and zero awaiting employment. We realized that Alaska was the only place we fit in; we decided to tough it out and make it work. We have.

Growing up in the shadow of Denali.

Easy-does-it, Joe!

Craigie Creek Trail. She's not sleeping; just thought it'd be fun to hang.

Some beautiful lake by Dogsled Pass.

It has now been seventeen years since that fourth and final time and we're doing fine (Decent job and house and lots more kids)! Alaska is home.

Adventures and peace to you,

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Poem with Pics by Clare

(Copied and pasted from her locked blog...)

A story by me

This is a story/comic/picture book/poem thing that I wrote. Click on the pictures of they're too small.

For some reason I like drawing sick, and/or stray dogs. 

I like the way I did the face on this one.

Ok, yeah, this one came out bad. But in real life it looks good, the scanner messed it up.

The hand took me a long while (I'm not good at humans), and it STILL doesn't look perfect.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Big Girl

Time for an Addie update!

At 2 1/2, she remains pretty healthy. Plenty of oral antibiotics (maybe 6 times) and one round of prednisone, but no need for IVs. She's tiny, though, weighing just 23 pounds and growing along the 5th percentile, weight  for height (which I don't ever remember). She is thriving and engaging and hilarious and affectionate. She learns new things every day and due to her constant imitation, I've renewed my efforts to curtail the brothers' potty humor.  It's just not right for a vision of pink sweetness to make those kind of noises. One thing that gives us endless amusement is her penchant for pointing at any man with a white beard and exclaiming, "Dumbledore!" or to a dark-bearded man with, "Thorin!" No, she hasn't seen the movies but the kids point out pictures.

Here's our big girl:

World's littlest braids.

Clare's Art Class (what a good babysitter!)

Pounding bread dough.

Rocks pulmozyme nebs like a boss.

Extra neb picture because of that smile.

Totally ruining someone's book.

Camp out with Clare.

Yes, that is a block of cheese in her mouth.

She's still the star of the family!
Smiles, friends,

Monday, July 28, 2014


Most of the time, I'm just like any other mother. Sometimes, however, I fight this:

When I have to allow medical professionals to hurt my children without saying a word when I can sometimes visualize punching them and running away with my kid to a thatched cottage on the moor, something breaks inside and I wonder if I will ever truly trust anyone again. When I have to listen to other moms simper about how teething fever is the worst and I know I'm being mean when I can almost hear myself laughing at them, something breaks inside and I wonder if I will ever cultivate charity. When the ladies who lunch ignore my request for a few bucks toward our charity research walk but ask for funds to send their kids on mission trips and I'm certain I'll never speak to them again then get mad at myself when I do, something breaks inside and I wonder if I'm a petty jerk. When I stare at a hospital bill from the two days in nineteen years that he was in between insurance plans and know that the CEO who received a letter from Rees just passed it on to the billing office and I want to snarl at Mr. Big Bucks to just pay for it but have to be quiet because it's rude to talk money like that, something breaks inside and I wonder if I despise rich, powerful people. When I listen to the coughing and to the lab cultures and PFT results and want to die but can't, something breaks inside and I wonder how I will ever get to tomorrow. 

Some parts get strong, to be sure, but other parts will never, ever heal.

I'm still trying, though, to be a trusting, charitable friend to all, even with my broken parts, who doesn't punch or shun or snarl or laugh meanly at anyone. But no one gets this craziness like CF Mamas, for all our disagreements about lakes and campfires and masks (!). They're special to me from afar. But if anyone reading this comes to Alaska, e-mail me so that we can visit for real, OK?

There is plenty of excellence that CF brings to a body, to a family, to a community, which I'm happy to herald, and often do. This is also part of it (well, for me at least) and I want you to know that when I recently saw a selfie of a vacationing couple and all of the "You deserve it" comments, I exclaimed to my husband, NO ONE DESERVES A VACATION LIKE A CF MAMA.

Broken, yes, but also ready for visits and vacations. And still beautiful. 

Love and thanks to all my friends,

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Try, Yes

I know that how I feel about myself is probably shallow thing to spend much time on. I mean, there are lost, abused, hungry children to worry about. This video made me choke up, though, and I'm sharing it. Never heard of her before she showed up in my Facebook newsfeed, but will keep an eye (and ear) out for more.

Love, Allison

Monday, July 14, 2014

Catholic Hippy Homeschool

Note: I use the word “hippy” loosely; that is, while I am distrustful of government, buck current sexual norms (by embracing traditional gender roles!), and like to eat close to the earth, I am not presently nor have I ever engaged in promiscuity or illegal drugs. OK, then; let’s have a little fun with this!
1. We spend a lot of time outside: yard gaming in the grass, fighting, exploring, and magical games in the woods; coaxing vegetables out of the garden; and caring for the hobby farm animals. We turn this into language arts, science, social studies, and art by writing, researching, photographing, sketching, and labeling. We actually do make daisy chains, cook up dandelion flowers, and brew spruce tea. We are flower children.
animals 0032. When the weather pushes us inside (excepting farm chores), we build stuff like classic forts, train tracks, lego creatures, and obstacle courses. And books, books, books. The most encouraging thing I have ever heard in fifteen years of homeschooling is this: A curious mother and a library card can give a child an excellenteducation. I make sure to have great books here, from board books to picture books to novels to textbooks (most titles found in the appendices of programs far too tightly ordered for me!) so that whatever strikes their interest will be excellently fed. It’s a beautiful bag.
3. We rap about culture, politics, and religion regularly. We explain, draw charts, and break out the catechism and Bible to read. Our Holy Faith is reasonable and touches every aspect of life while bathing our hearts and minds in the tempering love of Christ. So we can discuss a certain law or program or news story or homily with all the volume and hand-waving my Irish roots revel in; and in the same conversation bring it back to How Should We Then Live? (usually thanks to my quieter husband). Right-on activism.
4. We love the earth (see #1). We are masters at recycling and reusing out of financial and space-necessity. Any plastic container gets washed and joins the ranks of Ken’s camping supplies; any cardboard becomes a fort or art project (see #2); our backyard animals provide milk and meat and their pens provide fertilizer for the field and garden. Stroller walks always amass trash that the children collect and discard and our cars and clothing are someone else’s cast-offs. Love, baby.
100_22185. Even our mathematics is laissez-faire. We keep half a dozen programs here that they float among (Singapore, Teaching Textbooks, Life of Fred, Oak Meadow, Dragon Box, and Khan online) and enough buckets of manipulatives to ruin a week’s worth of midnight bathroom visits. If someone is having a particularly tough time, they’re dispatched to help a toddler build with Cuisenaire rods or design with pattern blocks. Peace, man.

The delightful Elizabeth Foss wrote that “We are educated by our intimacies” and this is our way of helping our children (and who am I kidding, us parents, as well!) be intimate with God’s creation ~ the earth, the family, the Faith ~ in our own Catholic hippy groove.
“Far more important, my dear Catholics, is not what we are going to do but who we are to become: that we become men and women of God and saints of God, the presence of Christ in this world. That is the object of education: who we become.” Bishop Carl Mengeling in The Catholic Homeschool Companion.

(Also published at Catholic Sistas today.)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Mud Run

So the whole family drove into Anchorage for the Mud Run on Saturday and we all had a wonderful time. Joseph, Addie, and I did not participate, just commuted among the bubble table, the hot dog grill, and the finish line.

I have no idea why she wanted to shed her dress and play only in bloomers. It's a toddler thing.

The weather was perfect, 70 degrees and windy, which meant that I kept my hoody on and sunburned my face. Ken ran the 2K mini-muddy with the younger kids, first time they'd done anything like it before (formal, that is; they run and jump and climb and crawl through mud daily). I wasn't sure if they would get weird and pout and walk back to the park, but as the minutes ticked by, I was pretty sure they were staying the course (designed by Ken, BTW!). We were waiting at exactly the right time to see Luke, then Ian, then Clare (and Ken) slog through the Skinny Raven arch ~ beaming! I was so happy they not only did it, but loved it, I was choked up.

Then Ken (again), Rees, and John gathered for the adult 5K. No problem there. Those three do mud all the time (and mountains and alders and boulder fields and ...).
John, always the coolest.

Rees, the muddiest.

Ken ran with a backpack. Because Ken.

I'm glad to help build that playground for ACMHS. Good things happen one ticket, one T shirt, one donation at a time by regular people.

Since I was milling around with two cute toddlers, a rottweiler, and a pit bull, I met all kinds of interested bystanders, security personnel, and volunteers: from agency folks tickled to meet Ken's family to strangers commenting on the Howell circus. One friendly lady told me that she budgets for the summer charity run circuit and signs up for as many as she can afford, knowing that the local causes are grateful for community-love. Everyone wins. Now I'm smitten and want to do this, too, adding a few family runs in between camping trips. Only if the weather's perfect, though. I'm not ambitious about it; just after some sort of social, outdoor feng shui thing that I just made up.

Here's to good health (especially Rees and Addie), good communities, and good familes ~ let's find out where to help. And here is the (very long) list of Alaska runs that I'm going to pore through and pick a few for us.

Have a great day, friends,
Love, Allison

PS ~ I see that I have pictures of everyone but Joseph. He was probably hanging out by the hot dog grill, pretending that he hadn't already eaten two.