Crocodiles vs. Alligators + Handling Science in a Pandemic

Little Fox wanted to know about the differences between crocodiles and alligators this morning. Since our science lately has been predicated on whatever he’s interested in at the time (and searching immediately for information and doing related projects), I pulled up some articles to answer his initial questions.

We read about the basic biological differences, but he also wanted to know which one was more dangerous, so he could determine which one he wanted to be.

“Typically, crocodiles are more aggressive than alligators, which makes crocodiles more dangerous than alligatorsAlligators are opportunistic feeders, meaning that they’re not likely to chase you down unless they’re provoked.”

–via Everglades Holiday Park

After pretending to chomp on my arm for a bit, I pulled up a cute, short video with a biologist to further explain the matter:

These last several months in lockdown, filled with Zoom classes and meetings (I read excerpts of my work via Zoom for a convention I’d never have been able to attend otherwise!) and isolation from all our loved ones, we’ve spent a lot of time restructuring how we approach all subjects, but especially science, since we’re not going on long explorations far outside our house right now.

We have stacks of science kits and partially completed Kiwi Crates and books on home experiments, but Little Fox’s favorite method for exploration is to ask a question and head to resources he can read, view, or watch. Even if the questions were sparked by something tangible on a walk or at the local park, he wants to come home and read about it and watch a video.

We signed up for Curiosity Stream, which has been hit or miss as far as usability and documentaries on offer, but their natural science and biology videos tend to be decent. He adores orcas since our trip to Friday Harbor last year, and we’ve watched almost as many whale videos as I used to watch sustainable farming videos.

While I’d normally have packed us up this week to visit the Reptile Zoo after his questions, we’re having to rely on multimedia to be enough for now. We’ll pet those semi-aquatic reptiles when the lockdown ends.

But today, after all that talk of alligators and crocodiles, we rocked out to this:

Making Music

dash-robot-xylophone-accessory-1-large.jpgFor his seventh birthday, Little Fox received a programmable robot. He changed its name from Dash to something rather unique, and had fun learning to program it using his dad’s iPad. Then my partner showed us attachments and upgrades, including a xylophone the robot plays.

Little Fox played around on the robot a while, teaching it to say silly things, to launch ping pong balls, and to dash about. He also played around with the music programmer, which while restricted to a single octave, still allows a good introduction to music making.

After writing his first song from scratch, and not merely editing existing songs, I showed him how to write the music in proper notation on a staff with a treble clef and quarter notes, transcribing it from the dots and colored lines on the screen of the iPad. We simply called this “[Name]’s 1st Song,” and left it at that.


He hadn’t been interested in writing more music on his robot the last couple of months, but then he started playing Super Mario World on the Switch with his dad, and he told me before bed one night that he wanted to write an ode to the level known as Butter Bridge 1.

The next day, I jotted down all of his lyric ideas, and as we went along, he started to solidify a pattern to the lyrics. The day after, I helped him restructure what he’d written into a poem format and made a few minor suggestions about repetition, but left the majority of the lyric writing to him. I typed up what he wrote.

On the third day, we sat at the piano together, recording what we played and said on the phone, and over about fifteen minutes, started to hammer out a basic tune. I let him guide what he thought did and didn’t work, and once he liked the sound of everything together, I quickly plotted the notes sans beats, bars, or other measures.


Today, I downloaded MuseScore, an open source sheet music writing software with high ratings. It looked easy enough to use for our current purposes, so we started playing around to see how it would sound. MuseScore has a playback feature, so we can hear how it would sound if played on a midi keyboard, which really helped him figure out whether he wanted quarter notes, half notes, eighth rests, et al. Then came adding the lyrics into the program.

It took almost two hours to figure out the software and the music, but he’s quite pleased with the result. I also plotted out his “1st Song” using the software, as well, so he’d have a clean sheet music version and not my messy scribbles.

Because there are certain portions I can’t figure out how to change within the MuseScore files yet (especially the copyright), I blacked out his name. Little Fox said I could black out all but “Cal,” but we have both a public version, shared here, and a saved version with the complete text. If you want to play them yourself, I’m including them here:

Butter Bridge” and “Little Fox’s 1st Song

Books, Beasts, and Loss


If you, like our family, are stuck at home and in need of something to read, I’ve added five of my books to Etsy for download at significantly reduced prices—$0.99 for poetry, $1.49 for novels. The five are: Perdition (horror), The Grasp of Time and Seal Breaker (new adult slipstream), Journey Through the Hinterland (poetry), and Aranya: Lessons from the Heart of the Forest (poetry).

If you’re an essential worker (e.g. medical field, grocery worker, pharmacist, postal worker, waste manager/processor, etc.), email me and I’ll send you a .pdf of one of these books for free, your choice.


Little Fox recently turned 7 and moved fully into 2nd grade work, which includes Beast Academy for math. They have challenging, engaging problems and teach math through comic books about monsters attending a school, hence the name. They provide both hard copy and online versions of their curriculum, so we bought the former and it included the latter.

Some of the problems stump him, but he enjoys it overall, and prefers to read the hard copy comics and complete problems online, otherwise he says the screen hurts his eyes.

We also recently received a gorgeous book called The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith as a gift from a friend. The art is eye-catching and its subtle story of uncertainty and loss hits home right now.


CW: pregnancy loss

In my last post, I mentioned how our lives were changing because my partner and I chose to try for another child in November and how quickly we conceived. Sadly, we will not be greeting that child into the world.

Despite good fetal development, a strong heartbeat at midwifery appointments, and being in the midst of the 2nd trimester, something went awry. At the anatomy ultrasound, there was no movement or pulse, despite having felt movement the night before. No one in the room expected the news. The doctor scheduled me for surgery a week later (mid-March) and we’ve been grieving as a family since.

Post-surgery, we received news that there had been no genetic anomaly—leaving us without answers as to what had happened—and were told the sex of the fetus.

My partner named her Tamora, a variation of Tamara, meaning “date palm.” He also discovered there were roses bearing her name, which we ordered and planted together in our garden. Though we were each saddened by the news in our own way, we’re working to heal and make a new path together.

Uncertain Future

14457341_10153940369498059_1321782115356490662_nIt’s been a year since I posted to Willow & Birch, yet we continue to homeschool, but there’s been little of note to break from our routine.

We’re expecting another child in August, and we’re not feeling remotely prepared. You’d think after twenty years of parenting, we’d have a handle on things, but no. Our routine will soon change, and we’re working to determine how to rearrange everything to make space for this new little person to fit into our lives. We chose to try for one more, but we weren’t expecting for our decision to become reality quite so fast (that very night).

Given my mixed success with pregnancy, we’re all being cautiously optimistic. It does have me re-evaluating where my focus needs to be, and it may come to pass that this blog doesn’t make the cut. I will continue to retain the archives, but I haven’t had the energy, time, or focus to give this blog the attention it and you, the readers, deserve. Not for some time.

The classes I teach will also be put on hiatus until the little one is old enough for me to feel safe having them in someone else’s care for a couple of hours a month.

I might change my mind at some later date. There are drafts I never completed for posts I thought would be of interest, but lost momentum. I might wish to revisit them, but I cannot say at this moment what may come to pass in the coming months.

Thank you for following me through our homeschooling journey, despite the intermittent and inconsistent posts. I appreciate each of you who shared along, commented, or joined me elsewhere on the web.

For now, my focus is on preparing for the new baby and narrowing the number of places online I spend my energy. If you’re interested in updates about my creative works (i.e. science fiction, fantasy, horror, and poetry), the best places to find me are on Twitter and Patreon. Published works are currently available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Blessed be.

Third Winter


Recently, I saw an image that said there were 11 seasons in Washington. Right now, we’re in “third winter” and we’ve been snowed in for nearly two weeks now. If I hadn’t parked my car in a safer area on the street (instead of our driveway), we would be in dire straits, and the bunnies might have gone from pets to meals.

We also finally all recovered from influenza A (we were sick most of January), which was sandwiched between two colds that went around the whole family. The up side to being swamped IMG_0031with holidays and family-shared illnesses is when snowed in later, we have a stack of educational kits to go through. Today we opened the Secret Agent box from Kiwi Crates.

We explored two of three projects and now Little Fox is a secret agent, reading coded messages in his spy briefcase. This is in line with starting Carmen Sandiego, who, while a thief and not a spy, has overlapping skills and uses stealth.

Of course, once we’d made the briefcase and stored away his secret files, we had a secret agent dance party.





Fifteen Dollars and Twenty Cents

b48dc456-4e18-4b68-b1a5-71cf8b0f0b65My son has discovered capitalism, and it’s entirely my fault. The other day, he asked me, “What do we use money for?”

I was distracted while running errands and didn’t give a well-thought answer. “A lot of what you see here requires money. The food we eat costs money. The house has a mortgage, which means your Dad pays a bank money every month, we pay for the cars and the gas that goes in them. Our lives, sadly, require money for almost everything these days.”

Now he’s charging for everything, and it all costs the same amount: fifteen dollars and twenty cents. The magic portions he makes? $15.20. The juice made from mythical fruit? $15.20. (If only our mortgage and car payments were also applied to this system, it might just work.) And today, he’s started charging for passage up the stairs, even though I was in a hurry to the bathroom. I shoved the imaginary fifteen-dollars (“and twenty cents,” reminds me) into his hand, and run to the toilet.

He then informed me if I want to go back downstairs, it’ll cost me … a banana. Or else I go to banana jail.

[This post was written in January. I thought it had posted. We went through a terrible bout of the flu through most of January, and I didn’t realize this hadn’t published. Yesterday, he charged me $15.20 for sushi.]

Reading Little-by-Little

45675785_10155911576738059_3982809025682079744_n.jpgLittle Fox is starting to read. I’d mentioned in the spring, he’d read almost the entirety of Green Eggs and Ham to me over a half hour, with little help from me, but then he refused to read much again after that.

I don’t believe in pushing kids too hard. When they’re ready, they’re ready, and especially when it comes to fundamentals of education. They need to build these bit-by-bit without feeling pressured to do so on a deadline–give them tools, encouragement, and the occasional nudge, and they’re likely to find their way through academics (and sometimes even life).

Sometimes it’s difficult to convince my partner of this, but I keep reassuring him that with being read to daily, and offering him opportunities to figure out the sounds of words in his environment, there’s a strong chance he’ll learn by age 7, even if he isn’t reading before then. (We have a similar discussion about maths, but that’s for another post.) Pushing kids too hard before they’re ready can lead to harming their long-term reading success, and as parent, teacher, and writer, and I want to ensure my kids not only can read for future careers, but for the pleasure of reading.

flipawordThat being said, this year has been filled with “reading prep” that’s engaging and Little Fox keeps asking for more. He’s ready every single “Flip-a Word” books available, and now looks at words in terms of their “families” (based on shared suffixes).

While his dad reads picture books or pop-up science books to him each night, since spring, I’ve been reading him novels. Though I’d read a couple of Nurse Matilda books (that inspired the Nanny McPhee movies) to him last year, he wasn’t able to follow them chapter-by-chapter each night. But when my copy of Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera arrived, I read him the first chapter, and he was hooked.

We don’t read novels every night–he doesn’t always get into bed early enough for my portion of story time–but since Space Opera, we’ve read five other novels, and he’s had me buy him copies of each one. I can tell he’s paying attention because he asks questions, and the characters come up again in our talks later in the week. His novel reading list thus far:LittleFoxNovels2018

2. Bunnicula

3. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

4. My Pet Human

5. Catwings

6. Catwings Returns

I’m hoping we’ll get through the other two Catwings books and The Neverending Story before the end of the year, especially since I’ve reinforced an earlier bedtime than we’ve had in months.

51u3xvbhv9l-_sx384_bo1204203200_Also, to supplement his other forms of learning, we purchased a Sylvan kindergarten book that focuses on math and reading. He’s required to two pages of each four or five times a week (a great activity when I need quiet time or to get some work done without too much distraction). He’s so far ahead on the math games that we’ll be jumping into cuisenaire rod games and origami, and he’s discovered a love of word search puzzles because of the reading section. I was skeptical about adding a workbook that wasn’t just mazes and activities so soon, but he’s really taken to it. What he began a couple of months ago (a school year’s worth of pages), will likely be done soon after the new year.

Every day, he’s looking at words like puzzles to solve, and asking me questions about the sounds they make, what happens if we replace a single letter, and what they’d sound like if we read them backwards. There’s no doubt now, he’s ready, and he’s loving every moment of it.

SIDE NOTE: It’s nearly the first anniversary of the launch of The Grasp of Time. If you’d like a chance to win a free, signed copy, follow me on Twitter.

Oh Yes, I’ve Leveled Up

Last Sunday, I said farewell to my thirties and it seems forty doubles under eye-bag size over night.

Dragon cooked bacon and English muffins for our breakfast, served next to a giant bouquet of dahlias and sunflowers. Little Fox braved a crowded library to decorate a balloon for me the day prior, so it remains as decor in our home until it deflates.

We went into Seattle, celebrated our friend’s sixth birthday, which included a balloon pit and a pinata filled with Legos. We ate at La Cocina Cantina, which holds decades of memories for my partner and I. From Nuflours Bakery, we picked up my enormous birthday cake and eight (gluten free!) eclairs. The sun broke free of the clouds for a few hours, though we ran through a brief torrent on the way to the car.

Upon returning home, I didn’t have to do anything but read and play Hollow Knight, but come evening, none of us were terribly hungry. I ran out for a sushi snack (plus yellow curry noodles) to share around the family, with the agreement we’d go out for a proper dinner later this week.

Friends posted reviews of my most recent book, other friends accepted digital copies to review later. One group of friends stopped by while we were out to leave a gift on my front door. Another sent me a gift to try out a local float tub! My partner purchased Cirque de Soleil tickets to see in the near future, and since we can’t afford a proper vacation right now (my requested gift), we agreed to at least drive up to Leavenworth in December for a day trip to take the kids to see the “Christmas Town.” I haven’t been since I was 15. The kids snuggled with me to end the day on a special note. I felt truly blessed, despite allergies and inflammation the whole week prior.

Catching Up on Summer: Part II


In the last post, I focused on Dragon’s birthday party, but after mid-July, I somehow managed to keep us busy every weekend. Most notably, we took the kids to their first Renaissance Faire for their fairy/mythical beasts weekend. I’d purchased a family day pass back at the start of January, which proved a wonderful way to avoid huge fees. The kids dressed as winged fairies, I put on my satyr horns, and my partner wore the new silver vest we’d bought him for his birthday.

We ate messy foods, drank copious amounts of birch and root beer, watched Scaramouch buffoonery, tried our hand at archery (the Little Fox hit his target on the second try!), and purchased a soprano ukulele for the family to learn to play together (and we’ve been learning a little each week). While the children rode a enormous wooden rocking unicorn, I danced with death in the square on screaming feet.

Before this though, the kids and I went to the U-District for a special reading of Space Opera by Catherynne Valente, followed by falafel and fries at a favorite dive on the Ave. Having read more than two-thirds of the book, we dressed up for the occasion. Little Fox donned a dramatic coat and a disco ball necklace, I braved a pair of striped pants I’d yet to wear in public, and the Dragon dressed like the curator of an art gallery.

The weekend after the double birthday, my father was in town, and we spent the afternoon with him at the park, followed by sushi for dinner. The next day was my aunt’s annual summer bbq, where we engaged in polite conversation (safe topics) with our family until the conservatives left, and then we entered a debate between the old school Democrats and the progressive Democratic Socialists. It was wonderful hearing my youngest first cousin not let down on topics like universal healthcare and basic income. His partner was equally willing to take on the discussion about the environment and farming.

The weekend after, we enjoyed watching a local teen production of Footloose in which one of my students was a chorus member, and her acting debut. I had the privilege of holding her weeks-old baby brother at the end of the show. The Ren Faire came the following weekend. Summer really felt over and done when the rains returned and the nights turned cold.



A curious change has come to our evening routine. My partner still reads a picture book or part of a comic book to the Little Fox, but instead of my usual singing, I’ve started in on novels. Though I’d said in June I wanted to read Neverending Story to the Little Fox, we instead finished Space Opera, and read Bunnicula. When complete, he asked me to purchase his own copy so he could read it again and again. We’re about to complete Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I’m blown away by the pacing of this particular book, as I grew up watching the film. There’s no magic in this book, it’s rather practical, and there’s so much more to the backstory for the rats, I love that I get to discover this with my son. He wants to rewatch the movie after we finish the book; we can discuss the differences and how he feels about them when we do.


On the side, I’ve read the first few volumes of Princess Jellyfish (see below), Djinn by Sang Kromah, and am nearly finished with a sensory feast in a slim book called The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark. They’re different flavors, and each one a delight. Princess Jellyfish appeals to my geeky and queer sides, I love the sweet innocent undercurrent of the story. Djinn is a young adult novel focusing on Liberian myths to which I’ve had little exposure, and they brought a refreshing, unpredictable change to the genre that left me hopeful for the next book. Then there’s the smooth, tight writing of The Black God’s Drums that takes us to an alternate nineteenth century New Orleans where sky pirates and orisha gods are at the heart of a young girl’s story.




I can’t recall exactly when we started rewatching Xena: Warrior Princess, but we’re nearing the end of the second season. Though we’ve also watched the new MLP episodes and occasionally a Samurai Jack or two, we’ve been running through the show fairly consistently each evening. Both Dragon and my partner have seen some of these episodes, but neither have seen the whole series. Even I missed the last season or two. Little Fox wasn’t keen on them at first, but now he’s telegraphing Xena’s battle moves in his pretend play, so she’s growing on him.

The kids and I binged watched the short series Princess Jellyfish, based on the manga of the same name. It’s a charming, usually silly show about a group of otaku (geeky) women who live together in a large, aging building targeted for redevelopment. They’re each obsessed with varying hobbies, the M.C.’s is jellyfish in large part because of a memory with her mother who died soon after. She runs into a “stylish,” a woman who dresses in high fashion and make-up, and engages in social activities that are difficult for the introverted group. The “stylish” in question turns out to be a young man with a penchant for forthrightness, fashion, and avoiding a career in politics like his father and brother. Some of it’s a bit over the top, but it’s wholly charming, and Little Fox’s favorite character is the young man in frilly dresses who, coincidentally, bears some similarities in appearance with him.

Just recently, Pandora stopped working consistently on our home computers. Songs would stutter, the computer wouldn’t let the audio play at all, and sometimes the page simply wouldn’t load at all. So I canceled our paid subscriptions, and put a little of that money into PBS Passport shows.


We’ve finally started watching The Great British Bake Off (a.k.a. The Great British Baking Show) after years of hearing from our friends how amazing it is. Folks, I’m always in awe of the food they make, but better yet, I’m touched by the way they treat the bakers–I’ve cried at the end of each episode thus far because when they let someone go, there’s so much support and love around said person, it challenges the notion that competitions need to be vicious and cruel. The way the hosts treat their guests flies in the face of American shows like Hell’s Kitchen where verbal abuse is not only the standard for communication, it’s what brings in the ratings. I prefer watching a show where talent and hard earned skill is acknowledged, and mistakes are seen as something to be improved upon, not shamed. Little Fox is rooting for 17 year old Martha in the first season.



At the Arcade Birthday: hummus, chips, veggies, gluten free cakey chocolate doughnut holes (“bonbons” from Flying Apron), orange doughnuts, and other sundry nibbles.

At Dinner with Papa: salmon and hamachi rolls and sashimi, edamame, miso soup.

At the BBQ: green salad, burnt steaks, my father’s baked salmon (soy sauce, olive oil, and lime juice), ice cream with sprinkles and chocolate syrup.

At the Renaissance Faire: sausages and caramelized onions, giant pickles, fries, root beer, birch beer, and lemonade.


Catching Up on Summer: Part I

When last I posted, I mentioned the Dragon’s impending adulthood. Yet our summer was filled with far more activity after–we had plans every weekend–that went beyond our usual summer experiences, I never stopped to write about them.

So the double birthday. Every year, my partner and daughter share their birthday, and some years one of them is emphasized more than the other. In this case, Dragon turning 18 took center stage over my partner turning 48 (but look out 2020, because I have plans for 50).

We’d had a conversation while walking through a lovely part of Kirkland, and passed by an exquisite wedding dress in a shop window. We both agreed it would be wonderful to wear it, though it looked too small for me and too large for them. I mentioned that though I never wish to marry, I always thought it would be fun to throw an elaborate party and wear a dress that nice to celebrate life.

Despite insisting they didn’t want a party before, Dragon decided that’s exactly the kind of party they needed. Of course, we didn’t have the budget for a full-scale wedding, but the fancy dress? That was key. Not only were we all going to wear wedding or formal dresses, we were going to do it in … AN ARCADE.

Unfortunately, there isn’t the same level of arcade saturation these days as there had been in my teens, and many that exist in our area are either 21+ or filled with dark rooms, couches, and wall monitors, which we could easily achieve at our own house. We wanted pinball. We wanted PacMan and Mario. Dragon wanted Dance Dance Revolution, and by the gods, and some good references by friends, we found one: Another Castle – Arcade Edition in Edmonds, WA.

They still have machines that take quarters, let us bring in our own food (not drinks, and didn’t mind us bringing a couple dozen people in.

People were a bit skeptical at first, but once the Dragon and I had our dresses and veils, my partner was ready to buy a dress–a merlot red–and upon seeing his dad in a gorgeous dress, Little Fox wanted a new dress for himself. We thought he had a decent one that reminded me of a summer flower girl, but he wanted something over the top. He chose a golden dress with delicate flowers, and insisted on gold shoes and a gold crown. He loved the whole outfit, but couldn’t wear the dress in the car seat because of the wire hoop at the bottom of the dress (he put it on at the arcade).

Our friends came in twos and threes, most of them dressed in their finest. My boyfriend came in the suit he

wore at his wedding a couple decades before. One of my students wore her prom dress, and looked stunning. We ordered sodas and water, grabbed a bucket of quarters ($60 worth), and set about playing every interesting game available. The teens primarily stuck to DDR, which proved far more challenging in a wedding dress than casual clothes.

It was a load of fun, and we all agreed the arcade was exactly what we needed (we want to go back again just for a bit of craic). When the adults around us started buying lots of beer and other alcohol, we started packing up. We drove back home thrilled.

Wedding-Themed Birthday at an Arcade?

I give it five stars.