1. Though Jeanne Marie expresses some wry shame over raising her children on a ramshackle farm, what actually makes this the ideal setting for a family? What discoveries about life do her children make at Sweetwater Farm that they would never know if they lived in suburbia?
2. What universal fears and adjustments, experienced by most parents, are captured in Jeanne Marie’s first encounters with Sasha?
3. Discuss Anna’s attachment to Birthday and the other chickens. Did you have a similar cluster of “playmates” when you were a child? What do these imaginary worlds of childhood predict about our personalities?
4. What do Sasha’s language challenges reveal about the concept of language and communication in general? To what extent does every family create its own vocabulary–even a nonverbal one?
5. What does the story of Luna the Sheepdog indicate about Alex and Jeanne Marie, and the world of livestock rules in general? Do farmers and ranchers have to follow these rules, particularly the ones regarding emotional detachment, in order to be successful?
6. Have you ever had a period of silence with a friend or neighbor like the one Alex had with George?
7. How did you react to the issues of mothering raised in “Fossils”? What portrait of family is offered in the haunting initial paragraphs of this chapter? What accounts for the competitive, expensive expectations of contemporary mothers described in Jeanne Marie’s Valentine’s Day memory?
8. What non-material aspects of life and love do Jeanne Marie and Alex emphasize with their children? Are twenty-first-century families more materialistic than those of your parents’ generation? What determines whether a family becomes materialistic?
9. In “A Day at the Mall,” the author encounters the phrase “transracial abduction” and discusses the controversy over her decision to adopt children from China. Why has this topic become controversial in some circles? How would you respond to those who disapprove of Jeanne Marie’s family?
10. In what ways do Jeanne Marie and Alex try to honor their children’s birth families and ancestry while making them feel secure in their adoptive families? What do their attempts to learn Chinese with their daughters indicate about the way identities are shaped?
11. What are Jeanne Marie’s strategies for juggling life as a working mother? Have you ever had an experience similar to her gas-pump extraction story? What is the best way to prevent burnout? Is being a parent also in some ways the ultimate energizer?
12. What experiences of loss and maternal love were illustrated in the powerful closing scene of “Killing a Sheep”? In what ways does the animal world of Sweetwater Farm underscore the cycles of life in the human world?
13. In “The Foggiest Notion,” a farrier derides the author and her husband for using horses as “expensive lawn ornaments.” What should the appropriate role of animals be in our lives? How did we develop our notions of which animals should serve as pets and which ones should be put to work?
14. What is unique about the process of growing a girl? As their skills and traits emerged, how did Sasha and Anna also develop their sense of what it means to be a girl–especially an American girl?
15. In her closing lines, Jeanne Marie tells us that motherhood rescued her. How did this prove to be true throughout her memoir? In what ways do children rescue us?
16. How has the author’s outlook on life changed over the course of her three books, which include her debut, Forty Acres and a Poodle, and The Exact Same Moon? How do her current notions of family compare to the days before she had become a mother?