unschooling

Snow Canyon

We camped in Snow Canyon this past week. It showed us an array of Southern Utah spring weather while we were there from chilly and rainy to windy to warm and sunny and finally, hot and sunny!

We did a bunch of hiking as well as some just sitting and enjoying.

We saw many lizards, bats who came out at dusk and flitted around looking for insects, a canyon tree frog, a tiny scorpion who’d been sheltering underneath our tent and who we found as we were packing up, tadpoles in pools, tent caterpillars roving around their netted homes in bushes and trees, mountain bighorn sheep, deer and we heard an owl our last night there.

 

The rock formations there are beautiful, large and sloping and white, coral, pink, red sandstone. There is some black volcanic rock there from an old volcano as well. It is a fun place to explore and near so many other great places too, like Zion and Coral Pink Sand Dunes. We played in the sand dunes for a bit one evening and enjoyed the orange sand.

There are petroglyphs nearby from Anasazi people who lived in the area long ago. They’ve found many artifacts and remnants of houses and other ancient spaces made by the Anasazi there too though the one we passed by wasn’t much to look at since it was an underground space and has been buried by years of sand and weather.

We admired many wildflowers and blooming shrubs and trees, beautiful in the rain with tiny jeweled drops perched on their leaves and petals and in the sun, glowing.

 

Now we are home and enjoying spring in our yard, opening our windows, picking flowers, reveling in the sunshine.

 

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unschooling

Florida

We took a little over a week to explore part of Florida.

It’s cold at home and much warmer there which was a nice reprieve. The kids had never been to Florida and Chris was traveling to Sri Lanka for a work retreat. It is so incredibly hard to be left behind when he travels internationally because I love traveling and have always wanted to travel more of the world and have had not any opportunity to do so in twenty years. It’s also hard because I also become a single parent for that time and have to be on duty 24/7 with all the needs of the kids and household. I’m lucky to be in a relationship where we are partners and do our best to share the load for most things so it’s a big deal when he’s away. And to be completely open, being a “stay at home mom” is hard. So hard! I love it and want to do it and am so lucky to be able to choose to but there is no validation, respect, appreciation, recognition for all the things you do, or all the progress you make or the things you really try hard at or excel at. It feels so lonely and so unseen and so endless. There’s no time off or work hours or bonuses or kudos. I miss when I had people who “saw” what I did and how well (or not) I did it. There’s a tiny bit of that from other moms and friends, family and my partner but it’s simply not the same. And our culture has no other value system for accomplishments, time spent, effort that what is there in school or work. Anyway, that’s a whole other post about my personal experience with the isolation of being a full time parent and home educator, how difficult it is and how I struggle and make do.

So, to keep myself from going mad, we went to Florida while Chris was away. He made it easier on me by getting us a great place to stay and flying out with us to get us settled in. We stayed in Cape Coral which we learned is the burrowing owl capitol of the world! Whoa! Gavin’s face lit up when I told him that. We looked around but had no luck but it so happened the Burrowing Owl festival was going on while we were there. Of course we had to go. The festival itself was fun, sort of like a fair. They had some rescued owls of different types and a butterfly pavilion.

Here are some pictures Gavin took of the owls at the festival:

 

Gavin says they’re an albino pygmy owl, a great horned owl and a barred owl.

But they also had a bus tour to see burrowing owls! We signed up and went with twenty other much older folks to see owls. We learned that in Cape Coral, they mark burrows. So, just like that, our owl spotting opened up! We stopped at several burrows and some were occupied, some weren’t and some the owls were inside and not visible as it was warm and the middle of the day. We learned that CC owls are the only ones who dig their burrows as the sand is soft enough there. In other places they use other animals’ old burrows. They were pretty cute little owls! There was usually one out guarding the entry to the burrow though at one burrow we saw both. After our tour we took our own tours and found many owls including a pair only two houses down from where we were staying! Wow! They are nearly invisible so without some serious location help or the markers they put around each we likely never would have spotted any even though there were thousands of active owl burrows in Cape Coral.

We went to the beach and the beach and the beach. Fort Myers beach was warm and shallow and the kids had a lot of fun paddling around there.

Sanibel Island was beautiful and there were lots of shells to discover but it was quite crowded and hard to find parking.

Lovers Key was amazingly gorgeous though we got attacked by tiny biting insects at dusk. If you go, do not stay till dusk and do not stop at the washing station! We spotted osprey nests and enjoyed the beautiful white sand and turquoise water. Here’s our picnic spot:

And here some shots from the beach:

We headed to the Everglades twice. Once we walked and once we biked the paths. There were so many birds and fish and turtles and alligators! We saw tiny baby alligators hanging around their moms and big ones submerged so they looked like rocks in the canals and big ones sunning themselves on the side of the path. We saw blue herons and white herons and night herons and ibis and spoonbills and wood storks and anhingas and hawks and tiny diving herons. We spotted a pair of nesting anhingas with babies. It was beautiful. The kids loved biking there and it was fun to yell, “Stop, there’s an alligator!”

 

We headed to Manasota Key to look for sharks teeth. We found so many! It was really fun figuring out how and where to look for them and then picking them up. We found tiny ones and pretty good sized ones and some were black, some were golden brown and black and some were almost bluish or orangish tinted in places. It was also an excellent place for shelling! Lilah loved looking at the shells for treasures. Gavin spent several hours looking for all the butterfly clam shells he could find in different colors. He theorized that they are different colors in different places. We even spotted some butterfly clams alive in the sand and we watched them bury themselves back up after getting washed off by the waves.

Here’s Gavin searching for butterfly clamshells:

And hunting for sharks teeth:

We admired the patterns of the coral on this big hunk:

Here’s some of our haul of treasures from the beaches:

Lilah learned the names of a bunch of shells we’d never encountered before.

We passed a bunch of mini golf places while driving so that was on Gavin’s wish list. He chose a pirate themed place and we went there one afternoon and enjoyed the course. They had an old smugglers ship turned into a hole which was pretty neat. They even had alligators we could feed. So, of course we did! We put the kibble between pins on a fishing pole and lowered it down and the alligators caught it and ate it. It was fascinating to watch. They looked like they didn’t even notice but then suddenly would jump and catch the food. They hung onto the end of the string for a while after catching the food too. I wondered how many golf balls they’ve eaten. No pictures were taken of the feeding because there was too much fencing in the way to get a decent shot.

I did a lot of yoga to stretch, strengthen and relax my body and mind. It helped ease my intense feelings a bit and felt good.

There were lots of little lizards living by our place, running up the trees and in the trash cans and on the windows. They were fun to watch. One evening we spotted a bunny grazing at the side of our place in the evening. The kids enjoyed watching it munching and then bounding away.

It was really fun to be in very different climates and biomes than we usually enjoy at home. It was fun for me to remember trips to Florida to visit my grandparents a long time ago.

While driving around lately we’ve listened to Hellen Keller’s autobiography: The Story Of My Life,  Changeling by Molly Harper, The Hazelwood by Melissa Albert. Now we are listening again to Children of Blood and Bone  by Tomi Adeyemi in preparation for the second book coming soon.

Lilah is already talking about our next trip to Florida! I’m not sure we’ll go again soon as there are so many other places to explore but it was a good week.

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unschooling

Del Norte camping

We headed over to the redwoods forest and the beach in Northern California.

The salt flats of Utah are on the first leg of the trip and we got out to see for a few minutes. It looks like snow but it is all salt and it is hot out there!

Our campsite was in the redwoods. It was cool and beautiful and so, so green. We even had banana slug and millipede visitors along with sweet singing birds. After 95-100 degree days in Utah, it was lovely to have mid 60s weather there.

The beach we love nearby was closed due to landslides on the trail so we had to adjust our plans. We headed to Crescent beach for some walking and shell collecting.

We really wanted to do some tidepooling so we found a few other possible places and tried one out the next day. The area the rangers were setting up was very slippery and hard to maneuver and we couldn’t find much of interest besides the most common shallow critters like anemones and crabs so we headed to the other side of the beach and we found sandy pools that Lilah could easily get around and so many fun things to see!

There were ochre sea stars in a rainbow of colors

and leather stars

and another kind I’d never seen before except at the aquarium which some research indicates may be a blood star.

There were crabs, both hermit and bigger.

There were barnacles and limpets and mussels and anemones and snails.

There were several types of fish.

There were nudibranchs! We found lots of one type with orange tips and one of another that was beige, flat backed with dark brown polka dots.

There were baby sea stars!

And best of all, we even spotted a small live jellyfish flowing in the currents

and an otter!

I spotted the otter in the ocean looking at us and then as I yelled, “It’s an otter! Loooook!” it swam up toward the beach near us and then galumphed up, rested, then galumphed more into a pond up at the top of the beach where Gavin spotted it! We think it was a river otter.

Here’s the “I just saw an otter!” face on Lilah:

And here she is, looking at fresh otter prints.

We hiked to Hidden Beach, a beautiful walk with wildflowers, ferns, views of the ocean below, a few seals sunning themselves far out on the rocks.

The kids built forts, with Chris’ help.

We spotted more amazing animals during low tide there too. Here’s a limpet that had come off it’s rock.

A couple of things I’m still working on figuring out what they are:

these orangey red blobs, which were further down in the tidal zone, which look like they may be red ascidians (commonly called sea pork) which the nudibranchs above particularly like to eat

and this, which may be a tunicate, but I’m not certain.

We also did quite a bit of hands-on (feet on) research about which seaweed types are slippery, or good for gripping while maneuvering through wet rocks in the tide pools.

In between our beach fun, we played Hero Realms, Yahtzee and Dragon Farkle, roasted marshmallows, explored the campground and while driving we listened to The Land by Mildred Taylor, a book about race relations and a young man with a white father and a black mother finding his way in America right after slavery ended, some short stories and The Land: Founding by Aleron Kong, which is a role playing game themed series with some crude humor that I’d prefer was left out but otherwise is quite entertaining.

 

It was a wonder full week.

 

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unschooling

3 of us, california

Chris went to a work retreat for a week in Italy so the rest of us drove to California and spent the week in San Clemente so I didn’t spend that time writhing in the throes of jealousy.

The beach was a short walk away from where we stayed and we spent many hours there. The kids built forts out of sand, driftwood and whatever else they found. I did a little tidepool exploration but the tides weren’t the best during daylight hours and the kids weren’t wanting to do that much with me anyway. The kids tried boogie boarding and Gavin loved it. He watched other people and he tried some different things and figured out some pointers about how to accomplish what he wanted. By the second afternoon he was coasting in with the waves, lying on the board. Lilah was a bit cold and scared and so she let the board trail around behind her and tried kneeling on it in the very very edge of the wet sand as opposed to going out into the surf like Gavin.

Lilah enjoyed looking for shells and she found quite a few including a nice abalone. She was very pleased to find different kinds and knows quite a few of their names.

We drove to a few other beaches and explored different areas. Crystal Cove park was a really fun area with rocks and empty sandy beach right next to each other.

One day we took a ferry to Catalina Island and went on a semi-submersible boat tour that got us up close and personal with fish. It was amazing! I wished I had done more research about what to do on Catalina because we would have loved to explore further and to be able to kayak or paddle board there but without planning ahead and with only one adult, it just wasn’t to be on this trip. We did go mini-golfing which was fun, including lots of “cheating” as named and done by Lilah, happily done and happily accepted by the rest of us. We took 45 minutes to see the museum there, showing lots of historical pictures and artifacts from Catalina as well as an exhibit by Dale Chihuly, who makes amazing glass pieces. My favorite though was his paintings which looked to me like blueprints for his glass and they included graceful shapes and colors and painted footprints. I always enjoy seeing physical evidence of the artist in the art.

I have it so easy compared to all the solo parents out there. The trip was hard, reminding me of how long it takes to get ready when it’s only me doing it, how the kids always need things at the same time when they are tired and out of sorts and I need to be preparing dinner at the same moment. I desperately missed my partner in life, planning, fun, relaxation and clean up.

We noticed different patterns in the sand, how the color of the water changes, hermit crabs in their pools. We noticed egrets and pelicans fishing and floating. We noticed so many anemones and mussels and lots of tiny fish in the rocky areas. We noticed trees and plants near the water and further away. The kids particularly like palm trees because they are a novelty… there are none in Utah. They decided the palms look like fireworks.

We played Dragon Farkle at our home away from home and the kids played MineCraft while I did some yoga every morning.

We saw this parking meter and all agreed it was a great face.

On our last day, I collected some things and started on a seaside mandala and then Lilah joined me. It was fun to plan and collect and create. Gavin read a book while we worked on that and then we started the long journey home.

We spent most of the drive out and back listening to the Tuesdays at the Castle series by Jessica Day George. We are really enjoying it. Each book so far has a day of the week, in order, title so the kids spent several minutes coming up with possibilities for the two remaining days that don’t already have titles.

It’s good to be home and back together again as a family.

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fresh air & surprises

We went for a walk up the canyon a few minutes away and beyond the usual enjoyments like blackberry flowers, birdsong, fresh air and tossing sticks and rocks into the creek, we discovered something new this time.

As we were leaving we went down to the creek in a different spot and spotted a swing across the water. Lilah crossed the logs and swung, and then we spotted a rope hanging from a tree right in the middle of the creek. So we tried that one too.

We left happy, making plans to return soon.

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art, books, unschooling

a trip to Joshua Tree & San Diego

We left Utah for a week and visited Joshua Tree National Park, a barely visited place for Chris and I; a new place to the kids.

There was climbing

exploring

photographing.

Lilah took this one:

Gavin took this one:

There was lizard spotting, oasis hiking. The palm trees in the far right of the picture are at the 49 Palms Oasis, at the end of our hike.

The frogs were singing when we arrived at the oasis and there were birds settling in the for the night. We hiked back in the twilight and at the end, the moonlight.

We stopped at a free air art gallery of Noah Purifoy’s work near Joshua Tree, preserved since the artist’s death, to look at a huge variety of art made with things used and thrown away. Toilets, metal trays and tires were some of the most used objects in his creations.

 

Between Joshua Tree Park and San Diego we stopped through the Anza Borrego desert preserve to see wildflowers in bloom. We were a bit early for the full effect but it was still amazing.

In San Diego we visited tide pools nearby

and the beach.

We made forts out of driftwood

and watched sandpipers and cormorants

and played in the water

 

and collected shells.

While tidepooling we spotted lots of snails of various kinds

and hermit crabs and bigger crabs, and fish, tiny and medium, one itty bitty sea star, lots of sea grass and kelp, tops, a few cowrys, a shrimp, mussels and barnacles, a huge keyhole limpet,

anemones,

lots of sea hares

and several nudibranchs of the Spanish Shawl variety plus one other I think was a Red Sponge nudibranch.

We saw a few seals swimming about offshore and then in La Jolla we visited their pupping beach and there were so many mom and baby pairs, swimming and sunning and enjoying life.

It was a lovely trip. We finished listening to Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan while driving.

When we got home were greeted by spring weather! The tree over our deck has burst into blooms and smells lovely and is bringing bees and butterflies to visit. There are so many visible buds and we’ve been eating outside every evening.

 

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Del Norte

We drove over to the top of California to camp in the Redwoods, visit with Chris’ parents and visit the beach.

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It was so nice to play in the sand, to toss driftwood (or logs!) in the water and watch pieces go out and come back in or sometimes just keep moving out.

The kids made their own game using driftwood, rocks and shell pieces and played for hours.

We collected shells, especially lots of sand dollars.

We caught up with Chris’ parents and had lots of fun with them on the beach, at the aquarium, at Trees of Mystery. It’s always so good to see them and the kids look forward to every visit we get.

We went down the the beach early to tide pool.

As we were about to leave the beach I looked out and spotted something with a fin so we watched for a while as several dolphins, lots of pelicans and other birds and a family of sea otters were catching some fish out in the water. Lilah was particularly excited to see dolphins!

We picked wild blackberries on the trail to the beach.

We saw sea birds, sea stars, anemones, mussels, barnacles, snails, limpets, hermit crabs having a fight over a shell, other crabs, fish, a tiny sea cucumber, chitons, a nudibranch and a gumboot chiton at the beach.

At the campsite in the redwoods we saw jays, ravens, other birds I didn’t recognize, chipmunks, mushrooms and banana slugs.

There are large stumps of old, old redwoods to climb on, in and around all through the campground.

It was wonderful. It’s so much fun to go exploring in types of places we don’t have near home (and types we do)!

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