unschooling

Inside Passage

We went to Alaska! It was something my parents had wanted to do with us for years and had been postponed due to my dad’s cancer and postponed due to covid travel restrictions and dangers so I sighed out a huge breath of relief and thankfulness when we stepped on board the ship.

We traveled from Juneau to Sitka, stopping to kayak and hike and ride in zodiacs. We saw glaciers up close and calving. The colors of the ice were astonishing. The sound of the ice breaking and falling was amazing.

We saw lots of wildlife: humpback whales and orcas, birds of many kinds, seals, sea lions, sea otters, bears, moose, deer, and water creatures like anemones, seastars, hermit crabs, periwinkles, sculpin as well as beautiful, intriguing and sometimes dangerous plants and fungi.

We were always busy, with morning stretch class and meals, watching whales out on the deck, going on excursions and listening to naturalist presentations. We even got to do several hikes and one very exciting bushwhack hike!

I tried using a gopro video/still handheld camera for underwater video and it was a fun first spin. I’m excited to keep at it and improve. Maybe next time I’ll try it without trying to steer a paddleboard on the ocean currents at the same time, or maybe not.

The kids got to try driving the zodiac around the big ship.

It was a beautiful, special time with family.

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Gavin is sixteen!

We had a family celebration at our house, complete with a chocolate cake with raspberry and chocolate frosting made by Lilah, our household baker, decorations my sister helped me pick out and put up, and family fun out in the fresh air. We had his favorite, lasagna for dinner.

He’s surpassed me in height just in the last month or so. He’s learning how to drive. He’s good at making hash browns. He has a laugh you can hear across a house. He’s practicing lego builds like the Lego Masters show. He’s playing Rainbow Six Siege, MineCraft Dungeons, Magic the Gathering, Beyond the Sun. He loves his friends, games of all kinds, fries, cats, sci-fi, steampunk, costumes. He’s got plans to build a shield that has moving parts, to build a new MTG deck, to get his driver license and go see his friends, to create and print creatures and blocks with the 3D printer. He is an amazing kid and it’s so fun to watch him go!

We had a party with friends at a fun center with laser tag, go carts, bumper cars, climbing walls, mini golf and more. The kids spent most of the time doing go karts, laser tag and climbing. They had so much fun! It was a lovely night to get together and play after not nearly enough of that for the past year. It was a really great night and the kids are so kind, supportive and enthusiastic about their friendships. It’s beautiful.

Happy Birthday, Gavin! We can’t wait to find out what adventures await you this year!

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in the works

Gavin’s been working in learning to drive! He took the written test at the DMV and got his learner permit and we have been practicing since then. He’s getting more comfortable with driving in town and is working up toward freeway driving.

We started weaving some baskets with rope and hemp twine in our nature class. At the last class of the year we played capture the flag and the kids went through the creek and into the bushes and trees trying to sneak into bases and tag each other. It was a lot of fun.

We’ve rebuilt our garden boxes so they are higher and filled them with dirt and got a new drip irrigation system put in. The kids hauled most of the dirt up from the driveway to the garden in carts with wheels, bumping them up and down the stairs. We’ve gotten most of them planted now and are growing beets, radishes, chard, kale, cilantro, rattlesnake beans, purple peas, lemon cucumbers, tomatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers and hot peppers, eggplant and we put in some asparagus for next year and some artichokes. I am so excited to see how they do with the new set up!

The hummingbirds and orioles have arrived and are so fun to watch and listen to in the yard and at the feeder.

Lilah and I have started going to aerial silks classes. Lilah, after a year away. Me, for the first time. It is HARD! Maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever tried but I really like trying! I have wondered a few times if I’m crazy, starting silks in my forties, but though I need to be more cautious and work harder than my younger classmates, I am enjoying it and making progress. This week after about a month of classes I have begun to be able to climb the silk, getting three consecutive “steps” up and pulling myself into a straddle hip wrap!

Gavin’s been working on MineCraft coding. He’s made a few items for the game and worked on making skins for them.

We’re infusing some honey with lilac blossoms, turning it over and watching the blossoms slowly rise to the top. I think lavender honey sounds good for our next project.

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Snow, flowers, wind

The weather’s been all over the place the last few weeks as winter thinks about moving over for spring and then thinks again. Gavin’s been working on designing some Lego ships with moving parts. He spends time working on a concept, sifting through all of our loose bits to find the right pieces and fitting them together and reworking things when they don’t work the way he wanted the first time.

He really wants to be able to write MineCraft mods and create texture packs so this week I challenged him to find a tutorial or class to learn about that. He found one and seems to be enjoying it so far. Computer programming is something he definitely can imagine himself doing later on.

Lilah’s been baking cakes. Vegan and gluten free baking is tricky and I’m seriously impressed with her efforts. She’s baking a cake a week these days and she’s learning about how things get weird when you forget an ingredient (cake without sugar!) and how it helps to try a recipe several times with different adjustments to tinker with it and get it closer to what you were hoping for than the initial attempt. She’s having a lot of fun and creating confidence and pride in her abilities and creativity. She isn’t afraid to leave the recipe behind! Very fun and impressive! We’ve had chocolate cake with chocolate orange frosting, vanilla cake with vanilla lemon frosting, vanilla cake with chocolate frosting so far. Mmmmmmm.

We’ve been reading together and discussing, working on developing written response skills. I’ve been painting a bit and I’m trying to get comfortable with meditation and work my flexibility and strength back from my long time off of my right leg. We’re rebuilding some of our garden boxes to be deeper and a bit smaller. I can’t wait to get started planting! I’ve started a few seeds inside. We’ll see if the cats leave them alone long enough to sprout.

We’ve been going on walks near and far and doing a bit of hanging out with friends outside. We’ve been doing some closet cleaning and some kitten exercising.

Chris and I went away overnight, leaving the kids home together to see if they would feel confident being home alone together over a longer stint. We had a lovely overnight with hiking in Southern Utah and a relaxed drive through every kind of weather and the kids worked together to feel safe and connected, eating together and reminding each other of tasks. They chose to spend most of their time on their computers, playing with friends but took breaks to care for themselves and our cats and bird. I’m impressed by their responsibility and teamwork and proud of them. I think they feel the same.

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A few days in Valley of Fire

We headed down last month for a long weekend. My sister and Dave met us there. We explored rainbow canyons, hoodoos, slot canyons and big slickrock domes that curve down to sandy paths between smooth and curving walls of yellow silica sandstone. It happened to be Valentines Day while we were there and a place with pink, red, orange, yellow and white rock seemed like a perfect place to celebrate love. Lilah spent some time making sand art with all the various hues of sand she found. We squeezed and climbed our way through several slot canyons. We sheltered in a little alcove from a sudden rainstorm. It was good to explore together.

We spotted desert bighorn sheep, a zebra tail lizard, some birds and tracked bees, lizards, birds and we think, a fox.

We started on the trails and then explored out and beyond which is where most of us feel the most at home. It was beautiful, all the swirling different colors of rock and the carved shapes. We chatted about which rock formations would be good for bathtubs and cat beds and where a nice hot tub spot would be. We decided that the rock colors were probably flavored. Grape, lemon, strawberry. Mmmmmm.

We ended the trip the same way we ended the last one here, deciding we should return again to explore more.

On our drive we listened to some more of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron. We’re enjoying the story. I am particularly enjoying following the story of a dragon who believes in peace, kindness and negotiations instead of fighting to the death.

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an afternoon at home

Gavin is working on building a custom designed hovertank made with Lego after some weight lifting. Lilah is putting together ingredients for a chocolate cake with chocolate orange frosting while singing. Later we will read more of and talk about the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH during our tea party with cake. 


Life is good.

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Cactus in January

Far South of home, in Organ Pipe National Monument, it is warm and the cactus are soaking up the sunshine. So, we headed down to do the same with my parents for a camping trip. It was lovely to be outside and not freezing, to be able to more easily spend time safely with my parents and to enjoy the sights and sounds of Southern Arizona.

We hiked and chatted and ate cold s’mores (because we couldn’t have a fire there).

We read and watched birds and walked miles each day to and from the bathrooms. The campground had one set of bathrooms open one day, the other the next so sometimes it was only a short walk but other days it was a bit farther and with multiple trips, we racked up the miles!

We watched the rain transform the desert and just as quickly disappear.

I took pictures of plants and used iNaturalist to identify them. I tried to take some of birds too and got a few but the funniest moment was when I got a picture of half of a birds beak with an almond in it, after the bird almost completely avoided my shutter.

We found old mines and beautiful rocks.

We joked and snacked and admired the big views and the details.

Life is good.

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December

We found a frozen waterfall in the hills in our neighborhood. It was lovely. We might go hunt other frozen waterfalls now that we’ve had a taste.

We’ve been working in the elf workshop, dreaming up and hammering together gifts for friends and family.

We’ve been going on walks, nearby and a little further out, with and without Juniper the cat.

We’ve been reading a lot. Gavin is working his way through The 13th Paladin series and Lilah has been working on reading the Snow Like Ashes series. I’m trying a few books at Gavin’s suggestion and keeping up with my library books in digital format. We’re listening to The Trials of Morrigan Crow series in the car, refreshing our memory of the first two in preparation for listening to the newest one.

The kids spent an hour on a walk one day coming up with a plan for a video game that was food themed. Lilah created a kingdom inside with an Alice In Wonderland focus and Gavin was working on a Pizza Factory basement level. It was so creative and fun and they put a lot of experience and thought into it together, just for fun. I was struck by how in this case, computers and games inspired creativity for them rather than stifled it.

We baked spritz cookies, vegan and gluten free for the first time. The kid enjoyed watching the shapes that come out of the strangely decorated plates and Lilah helped decorate them. I had to adjust the recipe on the spot as it just wasn’t working, not coming out properly, or holding together as well as not sticking to the baking sheet but with the addition of a bit of aquafaba they were working like they should.

The kids have both been working on their typing through a program called TTRS which is fairly enjoyable and they are making good progress! It’s a good thing to work on while at home more than usual.

Gavin is working on learning about the code language Java. He’s trying out Codecademy.com this time. Right now he’s working on running a lemonade stand in his course.

Lilah’s been spending a lot of time drawing. Here’s one of her latest creations.

We went snowshoeing in the mountains. There hasn’t been enough snow lower yet to do much snow play but we went up higher and found some nice fresh white stuff coming down and enough already there to play in. We found some cozy spots under the pines and spruces that felt like hideouts and wove between the trees and the stream where the kids enjoyed pushing bits of snow into the water and watching them tumble and very slowly dissolve. We spotted some rabbit and squirrel tracks along the way. Another day we went again with my parents and sister and Dave. There were fewer squirrels spotted but we did find a snowwoman.

We played the card game B.S. with they kids, where you bluff and call others bluffs. We ended up playing about 6 games because they enjoyed it so much. It was fun and we all laughed a lot.

On the winter solstice we took a walk and decorated some trees with dried orange ornaments that we’ll take down later.

We celebrated the holidays on Zoom this year due to the corona virus pandemic. It’s gotten worse here in Utah during the colder months and the holidays so getting together in person and inside is just not a smart move. So, we had a call with the local crew Christmas Eve, the Johnston family on Christmas and the Reynolds the day after. It was so good to see faces and hear voices of loved ones but so unsatisfying when I really want to be there and be able to hug people. We made a big batch of spritz cookies and molasses cookies and delivered them to my sister and my parents earlier to munch on while wrapping and unwrapping and zooming. We took a socially distanced walk in the hills with my sister, Dave and my dad after the calls on Christmas evening and looked out over the city, watched the sun set and the stars appear.