unschooling

Florida

We took a little over a week to explore part of Florida.

It’s cold at home and much warmer there which was a nice reprieve. The kids had never been to Florida and Chris was traveling to Sri Lanka for a work retreat. It is so incredibly hard to be left behind when he travels internationally because I love traveling and have always wanted to travel more of the world and have had not any opportunity to do so in twenty years. It’s also hard because I also become a single parent for that time and have to be on duty 24/7 with all the needs of the kids and household. I’m lucky to be in a relationship where we are partners and do our best to share the load for most things so it’s a big deal when he’s away. And to be completely open, being a “stay at home mom” is hard. So hard! I love it and want to do it and am so lucky to be able to choose to but there is no validation, respect, appreciation, recognition for all the things you do, or all the progress you make or the things you really try hard at or excel at. It feels so lonely and so unseen and so endless. There’s no time off or work hours or bonuses or kudos. I miss when I had people who “saw” what I did and how well (or not) I did it. There’s a tiny bit of that from other moms and friends, family and my partner but it’s simply not the same. And our culture has no other value system for accomplishments, time spent, effort that what is there in school or work. Anyway, that’s a whole other post about my personal experience with the isolation of being a full time parent and home educator, how difficult it is and how I struggle and make do.

So, to keep myself from going mad, we went to Florida while Chris was away. He made it easier on me by getting us a great place to stay and flying out with us to get us settled in. We stayed in Cape Coral which we learned is the burrowing owl capitol of the world! Whoa! Gavin’s face lit up when I told him that. We looked around but had no luck but it so happened the Burrowing Owl festival was going on while we were there. Of course we had to go. The festival itself was fun, sort of like a fair. They had some rescued owls of different types and a butterfly pavilion.

Here are some pictures Gavin took of the owls at the festival:

 

Gavin says they’re an albino pygmy owl, a great horned owl and a barred owl.

But they also had a bus tour to see burrowing owls! We signed up and went with twenty other much older folks to see owls. We learned that in Cape Coral, they mark burrows. So, just like that, our owl spotting opened up! We stopped at several burrows and some were occupied, some weren’t and some the owls were inside and not visible as it was warm and the middle of the day. We learned that CC owls are the only ones who dig their burrows as the sand is soft enough there. In other places they use other animals’ old burrows. They were pretty cute little owls! There was usually one out guarding the entry to the burrow though at one burrow we saw both. After our tour we took our own tours and found many owls including a pair only two houses down from where we were staying! Wow! They are nearly invisible so without some serious location help or the markers they put around each we likely never would have spotted any even though there were thousands of active owl burrows in Cape Coral.

We went to the beach and the beach and the beach. Fort Myers beach was warm and shallow and the kids had a lot of fun paddling around there.

Sanibel Island was beautiful and there were lots of shells to discover but it was quite crowded and hard to find parking.

Lovers Key was amazingly gorgeous though we got attacked by tiny biting insects at dusk. If you go, do not stay till dusk and do not stop at the washing station! We spotted osprey nests and enjoyed the beautiful white sand and turquoise water. Here’s our picnic spot:

And here some shots from the beach:

We headed to the Everglades twice. Once we walked and once we biked the paths. There were so many birds and fish and turtles and alligators! We saw tiny baby alligators hanging around their moms and big ones submerged so they looked like rocks in the canals and big ones sunning themselves on the side of the path. We saw blue herons and white herons and night herons and ibis and spoonbills and wood storks and anhingas and hawks and tiny diving herons. We spotted a pair of nesting anhingas with babies. It was beautiful. The kids loved biking there and it was fun to yell, “Stop, there’s an alligator!”

 

We headed to Manasota Key to look for sharks teeth. We found so many! It was really fun figuring out how and where to look for them and then picking them up. We found tiny ones and pretty good sized ones and some were black, some were golden brown and black and some were almost bluish or orangish tinted in places. It was also an excellent place for shelling! Lilah loved looking at the shells for treasures. Gavin spent several hours looking for all the butterfly clam shells he could find in different colors. He theorized that they are different colors in different places. We even spotted some butterfly clams alive in the sand and we watched them bury themselves back up after getting washed off by the waves.

Here’s Gavin searching for butterfly clamshells:

And hunting for sharks teeth:

We admired the patterns of the coral on this big hunk:

Here’s some of our haul of treasures from the beaches:

Lilah learned the names of a bunch of shells we’d never encountered before.

We passed a bunch of mini golf places while driving so that was on Gavin’s wish list. He chose a pirate themed place and we went there one afternoon and enjoyed the course. They had an old smugglers ship turned into a hole which was pretty neat. They even had alligators we could feed. So, of course we did! We put the kibble between pins on a fishing pole and lowered it down and the alligators caught it and ate it. It was fascinating to watch. They looked like they didn’t even notice but then suddenly would jump and catch the food. They hung onto the end of the string for a while after catching the food too. I wondered how many golf balls they’ve eaten. No pictures were taken of the feeding because there was too much fencing in the way to get a decent shot.

I did a lot of yoga to stretch, strengthen and relax my body and mind. It helped ease my intense feelings a bit and felt good.

There were lots of little lizards living by our place, running up the trees and in the trash cans and on the windows. They were fun to watch. One evening we spotted a bunny grazing at the side of our place in the evening. The kids enjoyed watching it munching and then bounding away.

It was really fun to be in very different climates and biomes than we usually enjoy at home. It was fun for me to remember trips to Florida to visit my grandparents a long time ago.

While driving around lately we’ve listened to Hellen Keller’s autobiography: The Story Of My Life,  Changeling by Molly Harper, The Hazelwood by Melissa Albert. Now we are listening again to Children of Blood and Bone  by Tomi Adeyemi in preparation for the second book coming soon.

Lilah is already talking about our next trip to Florida! I’m not sure we’ll go again soon as there are so many other places to explore but it was a good week.

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sword casting

We signed the kids up for a sword casting class a few months back. It was so popular we had to be quick to get in but are so glad we did.

It was amazing!

The teacher travels around with his equipment and teaches groups and he has quite a wealth of knowledge to share about metals, casting, history.

The kids each chose a sword from many different shapes. Lilah sanded her wooded sword. They used sand casting to create a mold for the metal. Each kid started with a special wooden box that comes apart multiple ways. They fill it with sand mixed with bentonite clay and a tiny bit of water, pat it down.

 

Then they put the wooden sword in and push it down with a flat piece of wood.

Next they sprinkle powder on top to stop the next layer of sand from sticking to the first.

Then they fill up the next half of the box, tamp it down really firmly, and put the lid on. They use a tube shaped tool to create a channel in the sand for the metal to get into the mold.

 

Next they unlatch the box, open it in half and carefully take out the wooden sword. That was a bit scary because all that holds the sand in place (to shape the all-important sword shape!) is your packing skills and the texture of the sand! Then they carefully put it back together and it’s ready for casting!

He used aluminum for the swords because it’s less expensive and lighter weight than other options. He heated it in a small foundry with propane and then poured it into each vertical box mold.

It cooled in about five minutes, then he opened them and took out the metal swords.

After that it was time to shake out the sand so it could be reused. I was interested in the difference in the sand that had touched aluminum.

Next they were ground, smoothing them a bit and removing extra ends from the pour channel.

Last thing was to wrap a piece of leather around the hilt.

The kids were thrilled and learned so much and it was so great he had them do most of the process themselves.

Things I found interesting:

Aluminum doesn’t occur as an ore naturally. The only time it does is when lightning strikes it in rock form and heats it. Because of this it was discovered much later than many other metals. Unlike many other metals, it just looks brown in its rock form. Napoleon had a set of silverware made of lightning formed aluminum that he let his favored visitors use. If you weren’t favored, you had to use gold utensils.

The criss knife is a traditional ceremonial dagger, originally from Indonesia.

The Egyptian kopesh is a curved, notched sword, used to hook and pull shields down and away from opponents so that you can reach them. They based the design of the Assyrian weapon that looks much similar but slightly smoother, which had defeated them while they used straight swords.

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camping in Anza Borrego & Organ Pipe

We headed down south to find some flowers and sunshine with my parents.

Our first stop was a night in Las Vegas with Chris before he had to head back home to work. We enjoyed Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere. It was beautiful and fun and funny and we had a lovely time watching it together.

Next my parents and the three of us headed further south into California to Anza Borrego, a high desert which often boasts desert superblooms early in the year. This year we were a bit early for some of the flowers but we found a few spots where the sandy desert was covered in rich colored petals and it was magical. The smells were so lovely in the windy air.

We found a slot canyon (my kids favorite natural formation type!) and that was a fun hike. It was narrow enough to have to go sideways in spots and Lilah spotted a tarantula in the wash. Wow!

Almost every morning we were there we saw rainbows.

We spotted some desert bighorn sheep traveling along the mountain above our campsite and got a good look with my parents’ spotting scope.

Up the canyon from the campsite there’s a palm oasis, such a strange change of environment from a mile lower where the world seems to be just sand and rock. There was quite a bit of water and the palms looked happy and healthy with little ones sprouting and fruits hanging from the big ones. The kids found a spot behind the dry palm leaves and the rock that was sort of like a little cave.

We heard frogs each night so one day just after dark we headed to the pond the noise was coming from with our flashlights and after some long minutes we spotted one and then two! We watched them blow up their necks and make incredibly loud songs to each other even though they were only the size of a quarter or so.

Each night we saw more stars than you can ever see at home. We looked at constellations and I saw several falling stars.

Then we moved camp to Organ Pipe National Monument. I’d never been there before. It was gorgeous with cactus everywhere in so many varieties and stages of life and death. We saw saguaro, organ pipe, senita or gray bearded, barrel, prickly pear, hedgehog, cholla. We really enjoyed watching (and listening to) all the birds in the campsite! There were so many and they liked all the cactus and bushes near camp. We identified quite a few varieties with my parents’ guidebooks. Two types I know I spotted were the Gila woodpecker which liked sitting  on the saguaro tops and the cactus wren who seemed to be interested in building a nest in a cholla, covered in spikes everywhere!

We ventured into some washes right near the US-Mexico border and saw lots of huge cactus with some wildflowers and lots of dead and decaying cactus too which was fascinating to see. Lilah particularly liked the giant cholla skeletons, full of lacy holes. The sunsets were beautiful. Lilah captured this one.

We hiked up a mountain searching for flowers. We didn’t make it all the way to the top of the trail because it was super steep and we only had an hour of daylight left but we saw plenty of beautiful views on our way.

We learned saguaro don’t put out arms until they are ninety years old. We learned there are bats who migrate from Mexico to feed on and pollinate the pipe organ cactus every year. We checked out some natural water tanks (spots in rocks that fill up with water) and an old adobe building.

We looked for elf owls who nest in holes in saguaro but never saw any. We did luck out, spotting a big horned owl nesting in a saguaro and got to look at it with the scope as well as some of us spotting it’s mate in a nearby tree on our way out.

We stopped for a night in Tucson on our way home and visited the Sonoran Desert Museum, which is a bit more like a zoo. They had great live animal exhibits. We particularly enjoyed seeing the cougars, bear, bobcats, ocelot, screech owl, burrowing owl and hummingbirds. The hummingbirds let you get very close to them which was really fun. Some were very quiet and some were very talkative. Lilah identified each of the four types in the aviary.

It was a wonderful time with my parents and in nature even if it was a bit windier than we had hoped for. I’m SO lucky to have family who love nature and camping and who I love spending lots of time with.

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a walk in the rain

We went for a walk in the rain that turned to snow yesterday.

It was a short walk, maybe a half mile one way, then back.

We each had an umbrella, boots and jackets. Our hands got cold from holding umbrellas and Lilah’s feet got cold from snow falling inside her rain boot gaps. Perhaps we could’ve done better with clothing choices.

But we enjoyed it. We listened to the stream and the plops of rain, then snow on our umbrellas. We noticed animal tracks. We looked at leaves in so many different stages of decomposition. The kids pointed out all the different colors they spotted: dark red bark, golden seeds, light green reeds. We watched water collecting and then moving across the path in a stream. We gazed up and watched the snow falling, from as high up as you can see a single flake, watching one fall, then watching the swirls of movement in many flakes together.

I was worried that the kids would be miserable. I was worried they would leave without any enjoyment. I let them choose how long to walk and turned around when they wished even though I could have happily gone several miles. They enjoyed it.

I’m so glad we went.

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turning year

Burning the Old Year by Naomi Shihab Nye
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.
To the New Year by W.S. Merwin
With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning
so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible
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more ghost town adventures

We’ve headed out to the desert to look for more ghost towns several times lately. We got lucky and found a spot by chance that’s too small to have a recognized name.

This is Lilah eating lunch before our exploration.

On another trip, we walked up to this larger named town remains. Both were mining towns, as are most ghost towns in this part of the country.

There was an old car that the kids enjoyed looking at. Strangely, we think we found a door to the car a half mile away from the rest of it. Hmmmm.

There was a head house still standing.

 

Lilah and I found lots of odds and ends.

There were many collapsed structures too.

We enjoyed this rusted cylinder, tipped on its’ side.

We walked up to the mine sites and looked at rocks and explored more remains.

We noticed these really neat frost crystal formations along our way, grown to huge proportions by hiding in the shade for days or weeks.

And these plants with super soft seeds were interesting.

We found some pinecones that were weathered in different amounts. Some looked almost feathery. Some still had pine nuts nestled inside, but were mostly rotted. We hope to go on a pine nut forage at some point.

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