unschooling

things we do while keeping our distance

We’ve been baking and reading. We’ve made about 6 batches of cookies since we’ve been keeping ourselves to ourselves. So far: peanut butter cookies with chocolate tops, spicy hot chocolate cookies, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cranberry chocolate cookies, macaroons. Mmmmmm.

We’ve been playing badminton in the yard

Looking for early flowers and signs of spring

We’ve been visiting our sit spots from our cancelled nature classes and walking and visiting our sit spots in our own yard.

Gavin started some new chemistry experiments which I’ll write about separately soon.

Lilah has been drawing and making videos and working on her doodle crate projects. Here are a lantern and a finger knitted dragon.

They’ve been telling collaborative stories.

Gavin and Chris printed a mask. It got a little warped so they are planning to try again.

We started a family D&D night.

Chris started an adult D&D game by message service.

We’ve been doing some yoga, hula hooping and Just Dance on the wii, trying to stay active.

The kids and I have been practicing our fox walking skills and tracking skills. One afternoon at the cemetery we fox walked carefully enough to get within about twenty feet of a bunch of deer.

We’ve been visiting some of our most secret wild spots and trails so we can enjoy sun and birds and fresh air but not with virus risks.

We looked up on our walk and saw this nest! A hawk flew from it right overhead and it was beautiful. The nest was probably about 3-4 feet across. Huge!

We even found some pretty neat fossils on one excursion!

We have had video calls with my parents and sister and chatted for a couple of hours. Those were really great, not as great as actually hanging out in the same room but still fun.

I’ve been taking my tea out to the porch or deck to enjoy the birds and sun and spring air. I’ve been using iNaturalist and guide books and internet sites to identify plants and animals on our adventures. I’m still finding things to admire wherever I am.

Standard
unschooling

new abnormal

We’ve been struggling with the new corona virus situation. We are incredibly lucky so far, as Chris’ job seems mostly stable and they are working hard to keep it that way, we have a lovely yard we can go out in and enjoy, one of us has time to be with our children instead of working at the same time, we have health insurance, we are in a state where there is easy access to the outdoors far from other people. We have so much to be grateful for! But it’s also been hard. I’ve been worrying about my parents, other family and friends who would likely have a hard time if they contract covid19. We have had to cancel so many fun things we were looking forward to: vacations, spring celebrations, birthday parties, coffee dates, etc. We cannot safely see our friends and for the time being are trying to stay away from my parents to keep them safer. It’s made us feel sad and angry and worried and disappointed and just depressed. The kids are having a really hard time not seeing their friends. We try to get them together online when we can so they can play and chat. That helps a bit. Here’s some of what we’ve been doing with our time.

We’ve been reading a lot. Lilah is rereading a favorite called Nimona and Gavin is reading Flamecaster. I’m rereading The Glass Sentence series.

We’ve been playing board games and gardening. We tried a new game called Ravine which is cooperative and as a group you try to survive after a plane crash by using survival skills. It’s really fun and not too long so we played it four times on afternoon. We set up our badminton net in the yard and have been enjoying that when it isn’t raining.

Lilah made a window star and we delivered it to my parents to brighten their view.

Lilah’s been working on a unicorn hand puppet, sewing it together bit by bit.

Gavin’s been working on his D&D project he’s hoping to run in the near future and working on 3D printing designs.

We are trying to figure out how to run our interrupted D&D game online and get the kids together virtually for that next week.

We had an early egg hunt in the house.

We planted carrots, beets, swiss chard, lettuce and artichoke seeds. I have some radish seeds on their way.

We’ve been going out to remote nature locations to hike, explore, and adventure far from other people. We bring food, toilet paper, gas so we don’t have to stop anywhere except our destination.

We hiked up a ravine at the canyon one of our nature classes usually meets at and explored there and visited our sit spots.

We went to an old ghost mining location called Silver City and admired all the old building remains and knickknacks scattered in the area. Gavin even found what’s called scrip, which is mining currency tokens, only good at the company store. This one doesn’t list any denomination though it says PAY DAY on it.

We headed further out to an area called Devil’s Playground where the rock formations are amazing. There are lots of hollow boulders and bubbled rocks to explore. There were even a few very short slot canyons between huge boulders. We saw many deer in the area and some antelope on the drive.

There’s a lot of beauty and good all around to be spotted, if I’m looking.

Standard
books, unschooling

following the flowers

For the past several years my parents have made a trip to see the spring bloom in Arizona or Nevada or California, which happens much earlier than it arrives here in Salt Lake City. This year three of us got to tag along. We went down to Tucson where the hills and mountains had lots of blooms and more sunshine than Utah right now.

We explored Saguaro National Park, where we saw many kinds of cacti, penstemon, mallow, and other wildflowers, Lilah played the barrel cactus,

And Picacho Park with lupine and poppies and many other flowers,

And Catalina Park where we got caught in the rain and hail on our adventure and had to cross a river several times. It was pretty exciting! Here’s some purple owl’s clover. Someone joked on our hike about having ice cream later and Gavin was truly excited about the idea even though it was cold and we were wet so after dinner that night he and my dad headed out to bring back an armload of ice cream and sorbets for all of us to enjoy!

One rainy day we spent at the Biospere II, a place where they have and are still running many scientific experiments in controlled biological environments. It was fascinating and I’m glad that Gavin and my mom decided on something so fun to do on a not so great hiking day.

 

It was lovely to spend time outside (while not so cold) and to admire flowers and birds and to just enjoy time with my parents.

Pretty much as soon as we arrived home we had to face the realities of this changing corona virus situation so I am very grateful we had this time with family.

With all of our driving time, we listened to the second book of Tomi Adeyumi, Children of Virtue and Vengeance which was fantastic and also Viva Durant and the Secret of the Silver Buttons by Ashli St. Armant.

Standard
unschooling

To St Louis and St George

We flew to St. Louis so Chris could go to a conference and a work meet up. The rest of us explored some of the city.

The old buildings and big parks were beautiful. The city was very friendly and relaxed feeling. We went to the science center, planetarium and the zoo, all in a huge park together.

When Chris had a free day we all went to the city museum which was by far our favorite place, a huge building converted into art and an endless playground, much of it made of recycled building or factory materials. It had so many fascinating details as well as climbing and sliding opportunities everywhere. Even the birds enjoy it!

 

It truly was amazing and the kids were quite sad that we couldn’t go again while we were there.

Chris and I got to go meet with a bunch of his coworkers in the evenings and that was really fun! He works with great people.

We flew home, went to nature class and then drove down to St. George to meet my parents and sister for a few days down there.

We hiked a lot, went to a botanical garden, explored the ruins of an old mining town and the museum there and celebrated Chris’ birthday. There was an old charcoal kiln to see, along with a fascinating mining town museum. We found a hike that had a section where you hold on to a rope mounted above to traverse a big rock with footholds, some of them made by native peoples ages ago. It was very challenging but fun.

 

We ended our trip to Southern Utah with some dinosaur footprint spotting. There are so many in the area you probably walk past them all over but this one was marked for us just next to the trail.

Standard
unschooling

Southern California

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.

Standard
unschooling

summer mountains

In the past month we’ve been trying to squeeze in a lot of mountain time. It’s been so hot here in the valley and cooler in the canyons, plus there’s more wildflowers, wildlife and cleaner air.

We’ve been up in City Creek Canyon and Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood and all the way over to Ophir Canyon with friends and on our own.

Yesterday we went up in the Uintahs, a little further from home for the first trip of the season and it was so lovely! There was a short rainstorm so we sheltered under some pines. The flowers were blooming everywhere and the kids and I are enjoying saying hello to the ones we already know and using iNaturalist app to identify and observe things we don’t know the names of. We only had a little over an hour yesterday so we’re planning to go back next week and spend some more time up there.

We took the path around the lakes, further from the other hikers, and got to see some fish hiding under logs in the water and lots of birds.

There were so many dragon and damsel flies and the heartleaf arnica, columbine, monkshood, corn lily, paintbrush, fireweed, yarrow, elephant head, shooting star, white bog orchids, pearly everlasting, western bluebell, wild geranium and penstemon were all plentifully blooming along with others I don’t yet know. I love learning to identify flowers and plants! It’s so fun to be able to call them by name.

We spotted several fungi types and were able to identify a few of those too.

I had the amazing experience of finding a hidden bird nest on the ground, totally obscured by the flowers and plants growing near the lake. I was stepping toward the water when a bird flew out from right in front of my feet, so, figuring there had to be a reason the bird stayed with me so close for so long, I carefully looked through the plants in front of me, hoping I had not stepped on eggs. A foot or so away, I found a nest hiding so well, it would be impossible to find unless you saw the bird going in or out. There were three or four tiny babies inside, hoping for food. Such a thrill! We identified the mom as a White Crowned Sparrow but the babies were just pink lumpy creatures with beaks and tiny whispers of down.

I’d hoped to find the nest again the next week and see how they were growing. So we went back and we did find them! They had changed a lot in 6 days!

We also spotted a boreal chorus frog. I saw it leaping and was able to catch it so the kids could see it too. Lilah held it for a while and we listened to the tiny noises it made.

The kids spotted a beaver dam across the lake from the frog.

I can’t wait to go back into the summer mountains. They are so beautiful and exciting and full of life.

 

 

Standard
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.

 

Standard
unschooling

camping in Anza Borrego & Organ Pipe

We headed down south to find some flowers and sunshine with my parents.

Our first stop was a night in Las Vegas with Chris before he had to head back home to work. We enjoyed Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere. It was beautiful and fun and funny and we had a lovely time watching it together.

Next my parents and the three of us headed further south into California to Anza Borrego, a high desert which often boasts desert superblooms early in the year. This year we were a bit early for some of the flowers but we found a few spots where the sandy desert was covered in rich colored petals and it was magical. The smells were so lovely in the windy air.

We found a slot canyon (my kids favorite natural formation type!) and that was a fun hike. It was narrow enough to have to go sideways in spots and Lilah spotted a tarantula in the wash. Wow!

Almost every morning we were there we saw rainbows.

We spotted some desert bighorn sheep traveling along the mountain above our campsite and got a good look with my parents’ spotting scope.

Up the canyon from the campsite there’s a palm oasis, such a strange change of environment from a mile lower where the world seems to be just sand and rock. There was quite a bit of water and the palms looked happy and healthy with little ones sprouting and fruits hanging from the big ones. The kids found a spot behind the dry palm leaves and the rock that was sort of like a little cave.

We heard frogs each night so one day just after dark we headed to the pond the noise was coming from with our flashlights and after some long minutes we spotted one and then two! We watched them blow up their necks and make incredibly loud songs to each other even though they were only the size of a quarter or so.

Each night we saw more stars than you can ever see at home. We looked at constellations and I saw several falling stars.

Then we moved camp to Organ Pipe National Monument. I’d never been there before. It was gorgeous with cactus everywhere in so many varieties and stages of life and death. We saw saguaro, organ pipe, senita or gray bearded, barrel, prickly pear, hedgehog, cholla. We really enjoyed watching (and listening to) all the birds in the campsite! There were so many and they liked all the cactus and bushes near camp. We identified quite a few varieties with my parents’ guidebooks. Two types I know I spotted were the Gila woodpecker which liked sitting ¬†on the saguaro tops and the cactus wren who seemed to be interested in building a nest in a cholla, covered in spikes everywhere!

We ventured into some washes right near the US-Mexico border and saw lots of huge cactus with some wildflowers and lots of dead and decaying cactus too which was fascinating to see. Lilah particularly liked the giant cholla skeletons, full of lacy holes. The sunsets were beautiful. Lilah captured this one.

We hiked up a mountain searching for flowers. We didn’t make it all the way to the top of the trail because it was super steep and we only had an hour of daylight left but we saw plenty of beautiful views on our way.

We learned saguaro don’t put out arms until they are ninety years old. We learned there are bats who migrate from Mexico to feed on and pollinate the pipe organ cactus every year. We checked out some natural water tanks (spots in rocks that fill up with water) and an old adobe building.

We looked for elf owls who nest in holes in saguaro but never saw any. We did luck out, spotting a big horned owl nesting in a saguaro and got to look at it with the scope as well as some of us spotting it’s mate in a nearby tree on our way out.

We stopped for a night in Tucson on our way home and visited the Sonoran Desert Museum, which is a bit more like a zoo. They had great live animal exhibits. We particularly enjoyed seeing the cougars, bear, bobcats, ocelot, screech owl, burrowing owl and hummingbirds. The hummingbirds let you get very close to them which was really fun. Some were very quiet and some were very talkative. Lilah identified each of the four types in the aviary.

It was a wonderful time with my parents and in nature even if it was a bit windier than we had hoped for. I’m SO lucky to have family who love nature and camping and who I love spending lots of time with.

Standard
unschooling

owls, bison and ghost towns

We’ve been heading further out lately to enjoy the fall weather and look for wildlife and ghost town remains and beautiful views.

Antelope Island is an amazing place to see bison, antelope, birds of all kinds. We found an owl but missed the burrowing owls and plan to go back soon and look again. We had fun looking at the old farm machinery and buildings and spotting so, so many animals.

We drove south to see if we could find the ghost town remains we’ve heard rumors about. It took us two separate trips to find what we were searching for but we got lucky and found a great spot with old mining town remnants. Most of the structures we found were collapsed but Lilah found some pottery, we found some old metal mining cable, and this that was still upright.

I love ghost towns. I love the mystery and romance of them and knowing that what I see today may be gone by next year, or not. I love watching nature regain her territory, root and branches, wind and snow and time.

I love exploring and I love watching my kids enjoy exploring. This Earth is such a beauty filled place!

 

Standard
unschooling

out to the great salt lake

We adventured out toward the Great Salt Lake with friends. We stopped at Golden Spike Historic Site, where the transcontinental railroad completed it’s route across the western U.S. They brought out the two engine cars and we got to see (and hear) them driving along the tracks.

Spiral Jetty is not too far from there, out on a dirt road. It’s a land art piece that is at the edge of the lake, except with current drought conditions it’s about a half mile from the water line. The kids enjoyed walking the spiral path and looking for lizards who love to sun themselves on the dark volcanic rocks there.

The Great Salt Lake is very salty indeed there, so much so that the bottom of the lake is huge, hard crystals of salt that are tough on feet. It’s pink from the halophilic (salt loving) bacteria and very beautiful and strange looking. The pink waves and white land is so striking! I dug out a few crystals while I was walking around.

They make for sharp stepping and cuts and scrapes.

In a few places there was foam from the waves which was also sparkly with super high salt concentrations. Fascinating!

The kids enjoyed it until the salt began bothering their scrapes and cuts and stinging.

We even spotted some more wild horses!

Afterward we stopped at Willard Bay on the way home which is another part of the lake but is very much less salty so better for swimming. We washed off the salt and the kids played games in the water until it was undeniably late and we headed home.

Standard