When my family moved to a new house in a new city when I was nine, one of the most fabulous parts was the discovery of a snowball bush in our yard. Naturally we decided a snowball fight was in order. We’ve been having springtime snowball fights there since and it’s a tradition my kids have embraced completely.
The flower clusters are white and grow in round shapes that mostly stay until you throw them over and over and they shed white snowflaky flowers all over the place. They smell good too.
I can’t wait until the next crop of snowballs is ready. In the meantime, the kids have asked that we plant our own bush in our yard. We’ll have to see if deer like snowballs.
Life is good and filled with amazing possibilities, if you’re looking.
We headed out on a rock hounding expedition to Topaz Mountain.
We found quite a few clear topaz crystals, some loose in the washes and some inside cracks and gas pockets in the other rock formations. We learned that a vug is a gas pocket inside a larger rock where crystals grow. We got to try mining with hammers, picks, crowbars. Next time chisels would be helpful too and more time to climb, explore and look for bigger crystals.
We spent some time beforehand looking at other people’s accounts of their visits and what various minerals and crystals are in the area, learning about red beryl, only found in Utah and one other place in the world and only found in gemstone conditions in one mine in Utah, therefore it’s more valuable than diamonds. The kids were quite interested in learning about what is around us, how to find and collect it and how crystals are formed and with what kinds of variations.
We learned that topaz turns clear when exposed to sunlight but before that it’s light pink or sherry colored.
We also made a short stop at the nearby remains of the Topaz Internment Camp, where the U.S. sent 8,000 Japanese American families and individuals during WWII. There’s not much left to see but there is a museum in Delta that we’d like to go back and visit sometime. It’s fascinating, fun, upsetting and important to look at our history, learn about decisions, politics, cultures. It’s important to me to learn about history and current news we agree with and are comfortable with and those we aren’t. The internment camps are a part of my country history I am definitely uncomfortable with and therefore want to learn as much as I can, so I understand how people came to choose and create them.
After we finished looking for topaz, we finished our adventure with some climbing before the long drive home.
Life learning or unschooling is amazing. Usually I’m happy to move along through the currents, learning whatever comes toward us or whatever we move toward specifically and observing, enjoying, but sometimes it’s nice to actually highlight moments of learning. I can remind myself when I feel curious how it works and yes, there it is, there’s the learning and growing.
Here are a few of those moments from recent weeks.
Yesterday we were working on the garden and Gavin noticed a bunch of insects on a trunk of our tree that he didn’t recognize. He asked what they were so I took a guess, wasps, and then we went inside to look it up on the computer. We found that they were indeed wasps though the kids said they reminded them of dragonflies. We learned they were specifically Ichneumon wasps and the very long thing coming out of one’s very long body was an ovipositor, an egg laying attachment which they use to lay eggs inside rotting wood or other insect’s bodies.
We were buying plants for our new raised garden boxes and there was a sign saying, “Heirloom”. So the kids asked what that means and I explained that it means the seeds of those plants will grow the same kind of plant and that many plants these days are engineered and will not grow the same from seeds. The kids decided that they wanted to get heirloom tomato plants, in as many different colors as possible. (Of course!)
Both kids have been helping haul dirt up from our driveway to our new boxes. It’s up a bunch of stairs and quite a process. We are paying them to help. They are keeping track of their earnings and Gavin has been counting up to amounts for things he wants to buy, and figuring out how many of what size loads he needs to do to achieve certain dollar amounts, how much he’s already gotten versus how much is left for the thing he’s saving up for.
The kids found an old deer antler and therefore learned that deer shed their antlers in spring and grow new ones. We’ve been watching the new antlers grow on our visitors. Some are 4-5 inches already and some are still just fuzzy bumps.
Gavin learned that plants have several different names, a Latin name and a common name and sometimes a specific variety name as well by reading signs at the garden store and arboretum. He also learned that there are many plants that are part of big families like apples and roses are. He excitedly told me all about all the plants connected to others he could find in the arboretum.
Of course there is so much more learning going on, both of kinds you’d find in a school, kinds we don’t talk about much but can happen anywhere, and kinds you definitely don’t find in a school.
I also look for learning about personhood, self, relationships, navigating emotions, etc. One of my favorite things about life learning is that these things are a part of every day and are usually more important than cool facts about the way the world works and we can take the time needed to really explore them when we come across opportunities.
Gavin was upset the other day because his expectations of himself and the situation (mowing the lawn for the first time) did not match. He got stuck in feeling upset and just kept circling inside disappointment, fear and anger. He demanded that I change things to help him. It was my observation that he needed to go through his feelings to be able to move on with perhaps a different approach or different goal. So we spent an hour sitting and talking and feeling and finally we found a way forward with the lawn mowing and the rest of our activities. In a world that doesn’t have time or space for people to feel their emotions or sit with them until they can let them go and find peace, we have that luxury. It’s a powerful thing. I know for a fact that my kids would trust themselves and me and our relationship so much less if we didn’t have time to sit and feel together.
Lilah has been having bad dreams lately and she tells us about the dreams and that she is constructing a dream folder in her head, where she keeps her dreams and ideas about how to change bad dreams into okay dreams. She spent several hours last night having a scary dream, feeling and thinking about it and finding ways to work through it. It didn’t matter that she was up late last night because we didn’t have to wake her up early and rush her off this morning. She’s learning her own way to deal with uncomfortable thoughts and dreams, how to navigate them, with our support and with the time she needs.
And then, there’s this kind of learning that we all come equipped with but sometimes some of us have discarded along the way: learning to see, learning to enjoy.
Lilah stands near the road, waiting as I come down the stairs to fill her bucket with dirt for her to haul up to the garden. The weather shifts, suddenly hot becomes cool. The wind is here, all around, a few big raindrops fall, welcome in the heat. The elm seeds, falling from a tree I can’t see have been collecting, spiraling down like snow and are settling in the street, as well as everywhere else. The wind picks up the seeds and whirls them in waves, in seeming solid forms though made up of thousands of seeds the size of my smallest fingernail up from the street, over twenty feet, then whirling in the air in a tiny twisting form and then falling flat, then up again, dancing.
“Look, Mama! The seeds on the street are swirling!” She smiles and exclaims, watching until she’s satisfied.
I am so grateful for her noticing, for her listening and seeing, for her joy in the things that so many times go unnoticed.
We’re on the go. We stay home. We have sloooow days full of reading, bird watching, crafting and baking. We have long days full of of park play with friends, holiday celebrations, library classes, working on the garden and yard, bird watching, cleaning. Here’s a peek at some of our recent moments.
garden raised box creating, filling, planting (we’re still in the midst of this project!)
reading and balancing
admiring seedlings and nature’s workings
selfie with a new Lego dragon toy
helping each other
may day faire with friends
cat photography by Lilah
It’s all important and it’s all good and so much of it is fun.