We took a week and made a trip to California, to visit the ocean.
On the way we stopped and explored Zzyxz, an old mineral springs spa town which has been taken over by a school for wildlife research but still has some abandoned buildings to roam. It was so incredibly hot, but still worth a short detour. The bath house was there, with an outdoor pool and some window frames looking away toward the mountains.
Here Gavin is “swimming” in the pool.
Nearby is a lodging house with tiny rooms in a long row. We found the whole area fascinating.
We also spotted some bighorn sheep along the road there.
The tide wasn’t super low for tidepooling when we were at the beach but we looked in them anyway and found a bunch of creatures roaming. We saw anemones, an urchin, a few ochre stars, mussels, barnacles of several types, hermit crabs, bigger crabs, fish, sea hares ranging from the size of a finger to the size of a melon, periwinkle and moon snails, a keyhole limpet, and some serpula.
The kids spent a bunch of time bodyboarding and wading and Chris and I got in a bit too. One afternoon we spotted a small bunch of dolphins off shore.
I had a lot of fun trying out my new macro lens that attaches to my phone! It was tricky to use on tidepools because it needs to be so close the subject so I mostly used it on dry or recently washed up items. These are a lobster tail, a crystalline iceplant seedpod, kelp, driftwood, seaweed. I really enjoyed messing about with it and am looking forward to doing much more. Thanks, Mama and Daddy!
Several nights, Chris and I got to take night walks on the beach as there was one a block from the place we stayed. It was lovely. We watched the waves and the birds.
On the way out of town we stopped at a sculpture garden to see “Bunny Henge.”
Farewell for now, Ocean. We’ll see you soon.
On our drives, we listened to the first two books in the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde, and began Rivals, Frenemies Who Changed the World by Scott McCormick.
Gavin and his friends love the steam punk aesthetic. Steam punk is a genre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. It is also a style of design and fashion that combines historical elements with anachronistic technological features inspired by science fiction. The latter is what we’re talking about here.
So, Gavin’s friends’ birthday was coming and he wanted to make something special so we brainstormed and came up with the idea of transforming a toy dart gun into a steampunk toy dart gun. We looked up some approaches and went shopping. This is what he chose to work with:
We also picked up a couple at the thrift shop to make sure we didn’t run into trouble with just one to work with. Next he sanded them all over to look more used.
We also spent time at the local thrift shop looking for additions to accessorize with. We came home with a toy with plastic crystals and a small sewing machine which the kids took apart for pieces.
Then we spray painted the dart guns black.
After that he rubbed on metallic paints in different areas to make the surfaces look like old metal.
Then we added some bits and pieces from the sewing machine and some other items we scavenged to add to the effect.
All three turned out pretty great but especially the one he added to and gave to his friend.
Lilah also made a special something for the birthday friend whose favorite animal is a fox. I didn’t get a picture of the cute critter before it was taken to it’s new home but the felted fox is already on top of our friend’s dresser in a place of honor! She’s got plans to work on more soon so I’ll be sure to capture pictures of those.
I love supporting these two in their creative endeavors!
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.
We’ve been at the pool, working on swimming strokes together, as well as going down the water slide there. We’ve been going to the water parks too. It’s good to cool down when it’s hot outside.
They’ve been reading oh so many graphic novels and we got some fun math books to check out.
We’re working through a puzzle I got for my birthday with lovely depictions of the constellations on it. The kids and I have had several discussions about constellations and horoscopes as we look at the pictures on the puzzle. Lilah decided she doesn’t want to be a Libra. She’d rather be something that has an animal representation.
We went to a new place in the mountains with friends called Cataract Gorge, an area full of waterfalls that’s several miles down a very rocky dirt road that felt pretty exciting as we were bumping up and down. The kids played for hours in the water. Gavin hauled driftwood around to create bridges, docks, an aircarrier and a huge ship with lots of customizations (smaller sticks tucked into nooks in a large log). The waterfalls were beautiful too.
We met a new bunch of people for a Magic the Gathering club and were disappointed. The kids were mostly too young to really be able to play and the kids that were of similar ages we didn’t hit it off with. I am so disappointed about this as I was really hoping it would be a good regular activity with a group of peers for Gavin. I am considering other options for providing Gavin (both of them) regular time with kids close to their own ages.
Lilah started a Makerspace class, where she does tinkering projects. So far she’s made a nametag with LED lights as eyes and is working on a notebook.
She also tried an aerial arts class, where she does acrobatics on long silk pieces hanging from the ceiling. She loved it so much and we’ll be going back often.
We’ve been enjoying harvesting from our garden. This week we picked two green beans, a jalapeno, a pink banana squash, several small pumpkins, cherry tomatoes, a zucchini, a handful of eggplant of various types, a bunch of lemon cucumbers and some basil and Thai basil. Yum! Lilah and I like to check the honeydew and golden melon progress every few days. The biggest melons are about the size of a kids football now. They are less fuzzy than they were. Lilah built a support for one of the honeydews that was dangling in mid air with some sticks and a rock.
Gavin’s been working on some coding, in a new class and on codeacademy.com. He really enjoys solving puzzles and is enjoying messing around with html and css. He says he likes css better because he’s interested in customizing things.
We listened to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl while driving. Such fun! The kids have heard them before but didn’t remember them well. I always have adored how Charlie Bucket’s grandparents have matching names: Joe and Josephine, George and Georgina. So much amusement in those stories.
Lilah’s been working on learning to play the chorus of Let It Go from the Disney film and a song from Moana as well as refining her Yellow Submarine on the keyboard. She’s getting quite good!
Gavin’s been building and rebuilding a Lego Mindstorms robot and then programming it to do different things. It’s huge and very complicated and he’s spent hours working at it. He’s really enjoying working on it.
I’ve been painting a bit. I love it! It’s time consuming but I absolutely love every second even when I despise the results. It’s hard to find the time but oh, so important for me to enjoy, for the kids to see me doing (since it’s one of my big life goals, to make art) and then sometimes they join in either just watching and chatting or sometimes painting too.
I learned back in college that when I make art, most of it is destined for the garbage can. I don’t mean I hate it, though sometimes I do, but I mean it takes a lot of practice, of experimenting, of quantity to create a little quality art. And it doesn’t bother me at all now. Long ago, it really did! Now, I just enjoy the process and enjoy those projects that I value the product too. It’s the making that matters to me. I hope the kids enjoy the making in life too.
Here’s my latest work in progress. I’m still struggling with the texture of acrylic on canvas, but I’m enjoying the struggle.
Here’s Lilah’s latest painting (of a cat, naturally).
played MineCraft while I patched some holes in walls at the other house in preparation for more painting over there.
We enjoyed lots of recently gifted wonderful things. Gavin built a robotics set,
we worked on a puzzle,
Lilah worked on her latch hook rug set, and her painted bowl kit,
I made deodorant with a bit of help from Lilah,
both kids started on new books: The Haunting of Falcon House by Eugene Yelchin and When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin.
Lilah made cards for all three cats wishing them a happy New Year,
we played Imhotep,
we played Ugly Sweaters,
we stepped outside and saw an owl on the post right outside the house! We took some pictures but it was dark and so they are not the best but it was so exciting! Maybe we’ll get another chance. Gavin remarked upon seeing the owl, “I love our house.” Me too.
We had a curry buffet for dinner and tried some new Indian and Nepali dishes followed by Chris reading Harry Potter and Eragon books at bedtime, cuddles of kids and parents and cats and I sang some songs to finish the night.
We drove to a new friends’ house and the kids played nerf gun attacks, played in the pool and played MineCraft together. They had a great time. Gavin was super excited to ride this mini motorcycle with his friends instructions and encouragement!
We went roller skating for the first time all summer! It was fun. The kids wanted to play in the bounce area and climbing area so I asked them to clean the living room and in return I would pay extra for them to do those things. We all skated for a bit and then the kids went to climb and bounce and I skated a bit more myself.
Chris and the kids went bowling with their Scout group. They had a good time and Gavin had a good game of it. The last time we went (a year or so ago) he was frustrated by his gutter balls.
We went up to Silver Lake for a picnic, walk and a climb. It was lovely and cool up there. The kids climbed this rock and looked down on us. On the other side of the lake there was frolicking.
We walked to the library and checked out some more graphic novels for the kids. Gavin knows right where books about MineCraft and Lego are and Lilah is well acquainted with the non-fiction animals shelves.
Lilah’s been folding tiny origami things, mostly animals.
Gavin celebrated his 11th birthday last week with friends at a playgroup, again with friends out for miniature golf and more bowling and then the next day with family for games and love. Wow! After hanging out with grandma and grandpa and aunt and us, he chose to go out for his favorite, Thai food for dinner.
We went to the water park and enjoyed cooling off in the wave pool and lazy river and occasionally taking shady breaks to lounge in the tubes.
We’ve been watching lizards in our front yard. There are at least two, skittering around under our plants and occasionally showing their stripey, blue tinged selves. How fun!
Gavin and Lilah made things from a tinker crate and from Gavin’s birthday loot. Gavin made a robot and Lilah made a racing car.
Gavin asked for a big set of colored pencils for his birthday (Anytime the kids ask for art materials I pretty much drop everything and run to the store. Haha!) and has been enjoying organizing them and examining how the pencils are organized by their numbers and trying them with some drawings.
The kids have been watching Pokemon, jump-started by playing Pokemon Go and telling me all about the Pokemon universe and its inhabitants. Lilah even decorated a balloon as Pikachu.
We’ve been enjoying the water park most weeks this summer. This week Gavin went on his first water slide with my sister who joined us. He was so excited!
Eleven years old! We even got to talk about how “teenage” usually refers to the numbers with “teen” in them though the set between 10 and 19 obviously go together in their own space and what a “tween” is.
He started out writing his book in pencil and was doing really well but then began to slow down, as he became frustrated by mistakes and time and the constraints of paper. I asked if he’d like to type the rest and he was enthusiastically for it. We’ve been avoiding this as hand writing is one of those things that I believe is a handy thing to feel confident at and has slowly, slowly been getting easier as the trauma of trying to write in school fades. However, it was getting to the point in his book project where he wasn’t feeling good about the book project but obviously wanted to keep going. Problems like, he doesn’t like the mess it makes when he needs to erase and he decides, paragraphs in, that he wants to add character descriptions in the beginning and similarly change the tense from past to present all add up to he feels overwhelmed and unable to continue on paper. So, I typed up what he’d written, letter for letter, all mistakes included and he began fixing things and adding to it and the last two days I’ve heard, “Mama, can I work on my book?” and “I think I want to work on the next part.” Wow! What a difference that is from the way it was before, when he had an idea to write about and was so excited and started and then got so mad and frustrated that he would cry and yell and tell me he “couldn’t” and “was too scared”! I’m enjoying his excitement and perseverance and I’m enjoying feeling proud of myself for asking and answering the question, “How can I help him succeed?” I don’t care if he chooses to stop because he wants to, but I certainly do care if he chooses to stop because he doesn’t know how to or feel comfortable proceeding even though he wants to go on. I think we’ve turned a corner.
Yesterday, in the middle of writing he decided he needed to make a map of the area in his story and then used that in his writing. He asked what a good name for a capitol city would be and Lilah suggested Capitol Reef and he thought that sounded good so long as it was by water.
We also discussed how many words are on a page and how that can be different based on so many things, paper size, letter size, margins, etc. He’s still deciding how he wants to lay it out.
We’ve been drawing (cats, kittens, occasional porcupine or Invader Zim)
enjoying lots of time playing with friends,
going to see Art Dog, a play at our neighborhood theatre with my sister and parents,
putting up the holiday tree,
swimming. The kids are getting better each time we go and they ask to go to the pool so they can “practice their swimming” and then they do! Gavin is getting better at moving his arms smoothly and kicking with his legs close together. Lilah is getting better at turning her head to breathe while she’s moving. It’s amazing to see what learning a new skill can look like when it’s accomplished all on their own interest, planning and work. They are really enjoying their progress as well as ownership of their process.
There was a twilight hike for me,
chocolate bark making (and subsequent eating),
pop up card making (she pulled out our pop up card book, pored over it, and then asked for materials and away she went),
cooking (red lentil dal),
working on rehanging our basement door (It’s finished now and I am relieved and proud!),
ice skating for the first time for the kids and the first time in at least ten years for me,
knitting for me.
Our days have been full to the brim with goodness. There is so much to see, learn and share. We’re never lacking for things to do or ideas of things to pursue.
playing with and caring for a new kitten! A kitten has been Lilah’s fondest wish for years and so after much deliberation we decided she’s at a great age to become a pet care taker and to form a really wonderful friendship with a cat. We told her at her birthday party that she could adopt a kitten. She chose Luna Lovegood, and has been playing with her, feeding her, taking care of her litter box and making beds for her in the doll house. It’s been so much fun to watch them together and to have a kitten in the house. Luna seems to love her new home and we love having her here.
We have been celebrating Lilah’s birthday!
And celebrating more with a tea party in the park with friends.
We have been reading,
rafting on a lake which was fun until it was scary and then new plans to try a different way were made,
Gavin’s been trying some photography,
and so have I. Here are a few shots I took with the fall leaves in a pool, and reflections of the trees and myself that I enjoyed.
We have been swimming,
noticing the return of some autumn birds and filling up our bird feeder with seeds,
building (here is a door with hinges built by Gavin)
playing Minetest and Minecraft (Gavin did lots of chores to afford his own account to play Minecraft)
watching short animation videos. We recommend this: Fresh Guacamole by PES.
We have been visiting Logan, Utah to see an Australian Aboriginal paintings exhibit at Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art,
watching part of the Democratic Debate and Gavin asking questions about politics, following up with research about the 2 major parties in the U.S. and an article on Time For Kids summing up the Democratic Debate.
picking tomatoes, tomatillos, jalapeños and Thai chiles in the garden for chili making (with gloves for protection from chile oil for Gavin).
We have been gathering with other unschoolers for an afternoon of spooky (and less spooky) science in the park.
They made glittery slime, stewed a brew in a cauldron, mixed colors, watched some dry ice bubble fun, watched various kinds of mentos and coke experiments and Gavin set off a really wonderful water and air rocket.
Every day is a good one, even the ones with hard parts. I’m glad to be able to watch my kids maneuver through their days and help if they want it and sit back and enjoy when they don’t (and share my own discoveries and interests when they are open to that, of course.)
There was some coolmathgames.com time and then an episode of Wildcratts exploring Dolphin language and then, of course, legos.
I offered to help them start Gavin’s new crystal growing kit, but they wanted to play with legos first so I instead snaked our bathroom sink. I despise plumbing but still prefer to do it myself instead of paying someone if possible. This particular problem only took about twenty minutes of effort and now the sink is working well again so I’m feeling pleased.
They decided to work on some beading… taking apart some old necklaces and making new things.
We opened a packet of Pop Rocks and sprinkled them in a cup of water; watched them bubble and pop and dissolve. The kids didn’t want to eat them but were fascinated to watch and listen to them release their gasses. We talked about carbon dioxide gas and then we ended up talking about the artificial coloring in the water from the candy and how there are natural sources of color for foods too.
Gavin taught Lilah how to play Battleship with Chris’ old set. “Tell me if F-6 is a hit and then put a red peg on the ship if it is.”
I went to the store to get some supplies for lasagna and some non-residue shampoo for me while the kids played Harry Potter Chess/legos/maze making.
When I got home they were ready to work on the crystal growing kit so Gavin read the instructions, measured out the water and stirred the crystal powder to dissolve it.
He placed the rocks and I poured it over them. Then we examined it closely.
Then he had to read the clock and figure out what time it would be in an hour when he is supposed to sprinkle an additional pinch of crystal powder on each rock. It took him a bit, but he got it.
They played some more Chess, this time with the Harry Potter Chess set, while they waited for the second phase of crystal preparation.
After that they worked on some more window art painting.
And then Lilah requested I read some more of Madame Pamplemousse to them before dinner and bed and snuggles and singing.