unschooling

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.

Gavin and Lilah are so tall now that Gavin is less than an inch shy of me. It’s a really weird but good experience to look at your kids grown as big as you. Gavin and I are sharing a flannel shirt we like. It’s weird to think that they will have grown so much during these months (years) of isolation that when we are able to see people again there will be a huge difference in their sizes.

We headed out to Utah Lake to see the ice there. It gets windy enough that often there are ice pushes, where ice is broken into shards and blown up toward or onto the shore in drifts and piles. It made for some beautiful textures! We walked out on the ice where it was thick and solid and we saw some raccoon prints in the ice. We discovered that rocks skidding across the ice there makes lovely exciting sounds too. When it gets colder the whole lake freezes and you can walk all the way across. Maybe we’ll get that chance sometime.

I’m anxious to tie dye and ice dye again. We didn’t do much this last season because of my knee injury so I am really looking forward to playing with the colors this spring. I’m working on listing the rest of the items we have already made in our Etsy shop PossibleOctopus so we will have room for more come warmer weather.

We are working on a new time organization method for our family, where we each set goals for the week and then check in about how we’re doing on those. We are hoping to help the kids practice taking responsibility for their own time, projects and goals more by giving them support in practicing those things. So far we’ve only just begun but it is exciting to hear about what things the kids want to accomplish or spend time doing.

The world is not puddle wonderful but icy wonderful here, at the moment.

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hundreds & millions of years ago

We spent a day heading out to a ghost town in nearby Wyoming. It was easy to get to but completely abandoned except by the cattle roaming around. There were a bunch of structures still standing which was fun to see and there were the preserved/rebuilt remains of some huge charcoal kilns nearby. The kilns were built in 1869 for creating charcoal for stoves and forges.

The river nearby was lovely and we explored a bit there too, spotting a muskrat emerging from below an ice roof into the running water.

We went for some walks with my parents, one out at a bird refuge. The birds were a bit scarce, a few hawks, some water birds, a heron, but the time together was treasured. There was ice on the stream and we discovered that if you tossed rocks on top, they skittered, making the most amazing sounds.

At a new bikepark, my sister showed us around. The kids each tried several areas and had fun, and I successfully got on and off of my bike for the first time since my accident. It felt good! I wasn’t ready for the challenging bits though so I walked around and watched mostly. It started snowing after a bit and it seemed really strange to be riding in a dirt park while it was snowing. They tried some hills and we explored different areas in the park.

Down south a bit, the three of us set out to find fossils. It took us quite a bit of driving up and down to figure out where to park and how to access the area we wanted to explore but eventually we succeeded, braving some chilly winds as we made our way to the more sheltered mountain behind the lake. We spotted bones, and then we found fossils. Some really amazing areas, with different kinds of creatures who lived in the ancient sea. We think, after some research, we saw some horn corals, bryozoans and clams perhaps.

We took our new kitty named Juniper on a walk. She has been such a joy, bringing each of us comfort in times when we miss our other people. She is a sweetheart, loves attention and is quite gentle. She has purring down and practices often. She’s also a bit of a mischief maker, which suits us just fine. She loves to try to sneak our food, to dig into the trash and….

A favorite fall game lately is trying to catch a falling leaf. On this walk, we all won after many attempts!

We explored a few new hiking trails and found some fun spots and beautiful sights.

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to see the sea

We drove out to Mendocino with my parents to visit the ocean. We stayed in two cabins next to each other on a natural preserve, filled with trees, ponds, plants and animals. It was lovely and we spent a bit of time exploring the preserve, but what we really wanted to spend most of our time doing was going to the beaches.

We explored several different spots nearby, each with their own attractions.

One day we watched a whole lot of jellyfish drifting and spinning in the water from high bluffs.

We scrambled up and down bluffs, played in the sand, sat and watched the waves and the seals, went looking in the pools.

In the tidepools we spotted sculpin, sea urchins, crabs of several kinds including one munching on a squid, anemones of several kinds, ochre stars, snails of many types, bat stars, six-rayed stars, a leather star, a sea lemon nudibranch.

We admired some impressive blowholes (areas where the ocean has worn away tunnels in the rock and creates huge splashes or eruptions of water when the conditions are right), arches and caves.

Back at the cabin between ventures, this is what downtime looked like.

The kids rolled and threw a bunch of driftwood into the waves and watched the pieces move with the tide.

We collected some shells.

One day we took a sea cave kayaking tour.

On our last morning in town, we went to the beach one last time. Chris and I watched the waves while the kids created a landscape out of sand, rocks, feathers & shells while telling stories about characters they’ve created.

I’m so grateful.

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Eagle Eye & Camouflage

In our nature classes we’ve practice using wide angle vision like animals do to observe ourselves and what’s around us more fully. One way we’ve done it is in a game where one person (the eagle) closes their eyes and counts to 100 while everyone else hides in plain sight. Then the eagle looks for people, using wide angle vision. After they have found all the hiders that they can, they hold up a number of fingers and finally tell everyone still unseen to come out. The closest person who remained unspotted AND who saw the number wins and is the eagle for the next round.

This year in our class we increased the difficulty by adding camouflage into the equation. The kids painted themselves with mud, sand, leaves, sticks. I did too. I enjoy participating even while the other parents preferred to sit and watch. It’s more fun for me to join in! The kids are getting good at holding still, and at hiding with the environment. In one picture below, it looks just like an empty landscape at first glance but there are at least five kids standing up from their hiding spots. If the picture was taken while they were hiding, they would probably be completely invisible.

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Lilah turns Thirteen!

She started her day with homemade chocolate mint donuts with vanilla glaze by request.

We chatted with Grandma and Grandpa in California on the computer and she opened packages from them. Then we had a party on our deck. Gavin did a great job of decorating to make it feel festive.

I organized a scavenger hunt by request for the birthday packages. This one I tried to make extra hard! A few of the clues stumped even this very clever birthday girl. This is the trumpet vine bush, which was the answer to There’s a fanfare for your birthday. Go listen! Her favorite was the juniper tree hiding spot; the answer to If you wanted berries in June, where could you look now? We went all over the yard, searching and finding and unwrapping.

We had a lovely afternoon with my parents and sister.

At thirteen, Lilah climbs and climbs and swings upside down. She loves challenging herself. She loves animals and wants to work rescuing them. She practices by taking care of our animals and making friends with any others she comes across.

Her favorite card game is Exploding Kittens and her favorite computer game is Among Us, which she plays with friends online. She loves graphic novels but is also reading bigger books now. Her favorite book is Aru Shah and The End of Time by Roshani Chokshi.

She can often be found crafting something around the house. Her favorite colors are purple and blue. She loves scattering seeds and petals on our walks, solving riddles, drawing, and anything with chocolate. She brings joy with her everywhere and finds it anywhere.

She thinks we should change how factories keep polluting the world. Her choice for president is Hillary Clinton.

Her curly hair is a bit longer than shoulder length and she prefers it down. She’s almost as tall as Gavin, just inches shorter than I am. She goes barefoot as much as possible and usually has dirt colored soles.

She loves to wear a whole rainbow of colors and patterns. She spends a few minutes most days practicing her favorite song on the keyboard. She stays up late reading, hanging out with her cat or drawing. Then she’s slow to get up in the mornings. She’s always excited about a bunch of different things. She likes picking the garden and climbing out of her window onto the roof. She notices things that not many others do. She’s always ready for an adventure.

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recipes for late September

Gather a handful of hikes

some chores

many books

a class with friends outside

a dash of wild foraging

a big bunch of polluted air

time with family

a big pour of golden sunlight

some big projects

a few sprinkles of costume planning.

Mix and enjoy!

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camping at Red Canyon

We went camping with my sister and her boyfriend and my parents down by Flaming Gorge. It was so lovely to get outside for a few days.

We walked (and some of us climbed in crevices) along the edge of the gorge.

We took a hike in the forest to a lake and spotted deer and elk (and maybe a fox) prints on the way. I walked two miles on a trail with rocks and mud and logs and hills… a first for me after my surgery. I had just gotten permission to put my full weight on that knee about a week before our trip so it was perfect timing!

We read in hammocks and chatted with family.

We took a raft and kayaks down the river. It was Lilah’s first time on a raft and she really enjoyed it. Gavin loved it too!