desert adventures

We ventured south to Arizona and Nevada for a week, stopping at Prescott to explore Watson Lake, Tucson to see an early Real Salt Lake game and Saguaro National Park and in Overton to explore Valley of Fire State Park.

Lake Watson is a bunch of granite boulders all put together this way and that, which they added a dam to one end so it is filled with water. There were so many birds and every few feet was a whole new world of rocks and water. It was very much a shame that we were too early to be able to rent kayaks and paddle boards but it was fun clambering around, bird watching and launching fleets of driftwood into small ponds and larger bays in the lake. We even spotted a few road runners while we were having lunch one afternoon.

One afternoon we drove out to Jerome, a ghost town nearby and we enjoyed exploring there. It was cold and getting dark soon so we didn’t get to see as much as we’d like, which just means someday we can go again and explore further.

Here Chris and the kids are reading about a jailhouse that slid down the hill.

We all brought our fan spirit to Tucson and enjoyed seeing our beloved soccer team, Real Salt Lake trying new configurations and putting new players to the test.

Saguaro National Park was as amazing as the last time we visited. We saw so many cacti and birds and nests and an old mine and petroglyphs.


Lilah figured out that she could play the barrel cactus! Each curling spike makes a different noise when you gently tap it.

Valley of Fire was gorgeous! It was also fairly crowded for being a state park in winter but it was fun anyhow. We explored on and off the beaten path. We even got to see quite a few big horned sheep. There were amazing petroglyphs, pretty orange sand to play in, a slot canyon, lizards,

and ravens and songbirds and squirrels, so many colors of rock. We saw white, yellow, purple, pink, orange and red rock, and in some places they are right next to each other! There was an area with waxy looking and feeling rock too. I would like to find out more about that. I wondered what it all looked like when it was wet. I bet the colors are even more vibrant.

The petroglyphs were some of the most distinct and amazing that I’ve encountered. The kids’ favorite glyph was the one known as Mystical Bat Woman, which is the one right in the center of this picture that has sort of clawed looking feet, a skirt and sleeves and two horns or antennae on the head.

Lilah especially loves to play in the sand. She made a sand rabbit:

We saw lots of tracks. Here is a bee making tracks:

We also noticed lots of holes in the ground and speculated about who lives in them. Gavin thought this one looked like a burrowing owl hole, with some debris scattered in front to lure in tasty smaller animals to eat. He did some research about how to identify a burrowing owl’s burrow.

Gavin decided he wanted to try being a photographer on our trip so we have quite a collection of photos that he took with our camera. I’m really looking forward to watching him explore photography more! Here are some of my favorites:

As we were driving away the last time two adult big horned sheep followed by two babies crossed the road right in front of us! Wow! What a special moment!


On our way home we stopped at the Hoover Dam which was big, impressive and really expensive to park at, visit the Visitors Center or take a tour. Gavin was interested in taking the tour to see the inner workings of the dam but we didn’t have time on this visit. It’s right next to Las Vegas though so not too far from many of our usual routes.

When we got home, the kids spent some of our settling back in time to play with their lego stop motion animation book. Here’s a video Gavin made one morning:

And here’s one by Lilah:



favorite winter things

We’ve been reading chapter books, graphic novels, picture books, novels, read alouds, and audiobooks. We just enjoyed The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.

We’ve been practicing cursive for those who find it appealing (Lilah),

Puzzling a cat puzzle,

Going to see the local gymnastics team compete, enjoying waving pompoms to cheer them on,

Playing with friends,

Taking winter walks,

Practicing Aerial silks and hammock tricks,

Game playing: Blokus, Cobra Paw, Exploding Kittens, King of Tokyo, Power Grid, Sid Maier’s Beyond Earth to name a few,

Gift making and hunting,

Enjoying new treasures,

Cookie baking and decorating.

We made soap, which was a fun new project. We tried the melt and pour kind and it was a bit tricky but we figured out how to make molded soaps with smaller soap shapes inside, marbled soaps and we added some home-grown lavender and rose flowers to a few. The kids have requested to do this again.

There’s been Dungeons and Dragons playing,

Finger knitting and crocheting. Look at this beautiful scarf Lilah made for me!

We tried making ice lanterns and ice orbs for the first time to celebrate the winter solstice. Next year we’ll know how to do it better. The lanterns were gorgeous when lit up with candles and stuffed with natural things we collected from the yard and the park. The ice orbs didn’t quite freeze all the way through. The lanterns did freeze but we didn’t leave enough space to create thick enough bases so they were fragile.

We spent time working on the second chapter of Gavin’s book that he’s been writing on and off for a year or two now. Gavin got another big section finished and is happy with it. I’m happy to see that it’s ever so slowly becoming easier and he needs ever so slightly less support.

We’ve been making pom poms and cutting paper snowflakes.

We got to visit with family in Idaho and Washington. There were lovely conversations, meals, games played, explorations and hugs.

We visited a Jim Hensen exhibit and that has sparked a week or two of watching The Dark Crystal and The Muppet Show as a family.

The kids tried archery for the first time! They both enjoyed it.

Lilah and I’ve been painting,

And drawing and cutting and gluing and taping and coloring.


Gavin made a map for a skit he’s participating in, to use as a treasure map.

We went ice skating with friends, with much twirling and even some backward skating.

Life is good.



We flew to Nashville for a bit of fun and a bit of work that was fun. None of us had been to Tennessee before. Chris went to a conference and spent some time with colleagues and co-workers while the kids and I explored and then we all explored a bit together too. It was Lilah’s first time on a plane and Gavin’s first in a looong time so they were a bit nervous but did just fine. The waiting in the airport and on the plane was the hardest part. Lilah watched that Trolls movie that I really don’t want to see (so now I don’t have to!) and Gavin watched part of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them and part of Doctor Strange on the flights.

We went to the zoo. Lilah loved seeing the red pandas and the clouded leopards. Those red pandas are so fluffy and cute. Gavin liked the snowy owl and the goats which were pretty entertaining characters. I liked seeing their huge collection of frogs, especially tree frogs of all different kinds, colors and sizes and I liked the lorikeets who came to perch on people if they felt friendly enough. Gavin enjoyed the lorikeets and Lilah enjoyed them on other people, but after one landed on her head and left again, she pulled her jacket over her head to keep them away.

We headed out on a forested trail a few miles out of the city by a lake and enjoyed some exercise (me walking, kids jumping from log to log and then climbing along the fence) and spotting some turtles and a blue heron. The kids were interested to see there are many kinds of trees, plants and animals we have in Utah, but also some that we don’t.

The Adventure Science Center was packed with fun and interesting things to do. Lilah and I loved playing with the magnetic sand and liquid inside of other liquid with strong magnets. There was a space exhibit area and a train and lots of games and fun things to try. Chris and Gavin tried the space challenge and the kids went on a moon walk simulator several times. Chris was really disappointed that the computer with the program to show how you might look in the future at various ages didn’t work for him. The tinkering lab was fun too. Gavin made a car and subsequent ramp to test it on and Lilah made… you guessed it… a cat.

We all visited the Johnny Cash Museum and some nearby parks.

We also played games and read at the place we stayed. Here’s a drawing Lilah and I made one evening. We each add something and then pass it to the other person who adds something and so on. It still makes me laugh.

I wish we had been able to do some swimming and boating but those warm weather activities weren’t available in December.

Chris and I got together with many of his coworkers from North America plus several from other areas who were in town for WordCamp for dinner one evening. It was really fun to meet people he works with and get to know some of them a bit as they are all spread across the world and so I haven’t had the chance before. I am always impressed by what I hear and see of Human Made’s ideas and people and so glad Chris is part of it.

We went to the Frist Art Institute and enjoyed seeing an exhibition by Nick Cave that was absolutely amazing and the kids quite enjoyed looking at it as well. There was also a hands on art room for kids (and big kids) to create some of their own things so we spent an hour there as well, making prints, doing fractal art on the computer and various other things. One of my favorites in the Nick Cave exhibit was this room with a room of painted bamboo curtains that appeared to change as you moved and that was so many different things and also, nothing specific. Fascinating!

We visited the replica of the parthenon they have and it was impressive but also not very fun for longer than a few minutes. There were some huge trees and some fun swings to try nearby though.

It was another good adventure.


fall together

riding bikes and scooting


gardening (clearing out the dead plants and harvesting the last of the veggies which included some potatoes, kale, beets and a tiny melon.)

reading (so much reading!)

hiking (this is one I did on my own one chilly afternoon, it was so quiet and the smells of fallen leaves and pine trees were abundant)

swinging (trying out the old car booster seat in the swing because experimentation is our way) also, she is wearing a striped dress, a patterned skirt, striped leg warmers and dotted socks. I LOVE to watch her choose for herself and enjoy a world of possibilities.)

drawing (separately and collaboratively)

playing games, games, games

making shoes

playing with cats

playing with Chris’ drone





We had a lovely Halloween! We all dressed up as characters from Harry Potter. I was Luna Lovegood. Chris was Xenophilius Lovegood. Lilah was Hedwig (the owl) and Gavin was either Fred or George Weasley, depending on the minute you asked him. The kids trick or treated and then came back to Grandma and Grandpa’s to share their spoils with Grandma.

We celebrated Chris’ birthday with a first visit to a Harry Potter themed escape room with my sister and parents. We had to solve clues to find six horcruxes hidden in the space, behind locks or secret compartments that open only when you’ve gotten the riddles right. We had an hour to complete it and we just made it with less than a minute to spare. It was really fun! The kids loved it and helped significantly and it was not scary like some of the other escape rooms are. There were lots of different kinds of puzzles involved so we all got to work together. I sense a new favorite pastime coming on.

Last week we drove up to Portland for Chris to go to a conference and to hang out with friends who recently moved there. We visited OMSI where we did some science exploration and the Japanese Gardens and our friends. We got to see our friends’ new place and the Gardens were lovely with fall colors.

We bought a book that Gavin was interested in to bring up to Portland (a four day trip this time) and I briefly thought about getting the next one in the series too but as they are hundreds of page novels, I thought he’d be fine with the one. Well, I was wrong! He finished that in two days and so we went on a search for the next one on our trip. His reading speed has really increased lately! I love that he enjoys reading though robotic dragons and steampunk stories aren’t my cup of tea. I love hearing him tell me all about them though!

I’ve been slowly taking plants out of the garden as it gets too cold for veggies. We still had squash, tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers out there last week though. I brought in a bunch of semi ripe tomatoes to ripen inside.

Yesterday we enjoyed watching a huge hawk just a hundred yards up the hill behind our house, sitting in a big tree. Magpies kept trying to bother it, get it to move but it was happy surveying the autumn grass and emptying trees. Later we spotted another on a utility pole nearby as well. There seems to be one who likes to spend many an hour nearby and it’s lovely to watch it sitting or soaring.

Lilah has been writing songs. She has a notebook where she writes down lyrics and then I hear her early in the morning or late evenings in her room singing and then talking to herself about the next parts. She also has been enjoying playing on our keyboard.




books, unschooling

fall in the mountains

Lilah’s been finger knitting. She’s made a scarf, two necklaces, some bracelets, a head band and some curtain ties that I know about plus likely just as much that I don’t.

We went swimming and worked on breathing while swimming.

Lilah took a lyra class and has been doing more aerial silks classes. I do yoga while she does aerials which is perfect.

We’ve been listening to the Brotherband Chronicles, The Outcasts by John Flanagan in the car. It’s so good.

Gavin is working with his Odyssey of the Mind team on a Star Wars themed challenge. They are working on a play with various characters and scenarios. It will be his turn soon to be a student leader and bring and support a short activity for the group so he’s been brainstorming about that.

I’ve been working on Halloween costumes. The kids weren’t sure what they wanted to do until just a few days ago so I’ve been scrambling to collect pieces and parts for all of us and to make Lilah’s costume but it’s fun to do even if we are on a tight schedule.

We took a hike up to Fifth Water hot springs with my sister.

It was a beautiful cool day and there were still colored leaves everywhere though a bit less vibrant than the previous week. When we go up to the hot springs the river runs blue and a bit cloudy and there are many small pools with rocks, waterfalls, reeds. We found one that nobody else was using and my sister and I enjoyed immersing ourselves while the kids dipped their feet and legs in and explored. Gavin had brought a book so he read for a while as we soaked.

We watched a Ginormous Pumpkin Regatta, a boat race in giant pumpkins with my family. It was really entertaining. There were some capsized pumpkins and one that was so big it could barely move aside from spinning in a circle. I want to know more about growing those pumpkins. How big are the plants? How much soil do they need? Do you pick off all the other pumpkins to grow one as big as possible? How do they taste? If the growers spend up to 30 hours a week caring for the pumpkin, what is it they’re doing? I may do some research to satisfy my curiosity. However, I doubt we’ll be growing giant pumpkins anytime. The usual size kind took over our yard just fine this year. We got 4 orange pumpkins from two vines and 2 gray-green pumkins from another vine that grew from seeds in the compost. The kids are particularly excited about the green ones.

We’ve been going to a homeschool gymnastics open gym session with friends. The kids get to use the equipment and play for several hours.

One of our favorite places, Red Butte Garden, a botanical center near us and where Chris and I were married has a Halloween activity every year called Garden After Dark that we enjoy. This year it was Alice in Wonderland themed. It was really fun to hunt for gems for our key to the portal to another world, search for white rabbits and enjoy the Queen of Hearts reciting Jabberwocky. They had games like flamingo croquet and giant tea cup decorations and also fun information about plants like there are roses that change color and riddles about flowers and herbs. We had a lot of fun and came home with wildflower seeds and chamomile (tea) seeds.