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:




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




99 degree days

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).



a camping eclipse!


We headed up to Idaho, right outside of Stanley, to meet family and friends at a campground to watch the eclipse. We also got to check out lots of fun things to do while the moon was not in front of the sun. One favorite activity was learning to play Balderdash. Players make up definitions for obscure words, acronymns, movies, dates and then the made up definitions are given along with the real one, and everyone guesses which is the correct definition. It was really fun!

Chris and Gavin rafted and kayaked the Salmon River. It was Gavin’s first time rafting and he loved it! It was Chris’ first time kayaking a river and he loved it too. I didn’t go because Lilah had a negative experience recently on a rafting ride, getting too wet and cold and scared and firmly told us she didn’t want to raft. So, we listened to her wishes and hope that someday, maybe soon, she’ll be ready to brave the raft too.

We went to a nearby lake to hike, paddleboat, kayak and paddle board. There were so many fish, little and big, silver and even some red kokanee. It was our first time on paddle boards and Lilah and I had so much fun! Gavin enjoyed the kayak more and Chris preferred that too.

On one visit we took a speed boat across the lake to hike the other side. We found a lovely waterfall.

There were many natural hot springs near Stanley so we visited one at the edge of the river one evening. The spring was hot! and the river was cold! and every so often you’d find a sweet spot where the two mixed together in the right proportions, but mostly the tops of my legs were hot and my back was cold. It was fun to see how different depths and sizes of pools changed the water temperature. Gavin spent the evening on a huuuge log jam, pulling sticks out, tossing them in the river, finding treasure (fishing floats, beautiful sticks) buried in the hill of wood.

And then there was the eclipse. Incredible! Words can’t describe the experience adequately. We had breakfast and then it was time for the partial eclipse to begin. We passed out glasses and watched the moon ever so slowly cross in front of the sun from the top right edge, slowly, slowly toward the bottom left. It was warming up when the eclipse began but it started getting colder again after maybe a half hour or so and by the time the moon completely eclipsed the sun it was much colder. We checked the time and watched the progress and watched the shadows change from rounded edges to crescent shards as the eclipse got past 90%. It seemed to get murky and strange though it was still quite bright until suddenly the light was gone. It was dark enough to feel like night, though not as complete as night, similar to the darkness between twilight and full night.

We took off our glasses and saw the sun black, it’s corona red around it and surrounded by white shining light that was pointed in several directions, like we draw stars. You could see the corona moving, spitting, exploding. We could see other stars. The animals quieted. The humans did too. It was such an amazing experience it was hard to take it that it was actually happening. And then, 2 minutes and 13 seconds later, a shine, and then a burst of light out from the other side of the moon and then the crescent grew and grew into our usual round sun. The warmth returned, the usual activities of the day returned.

After talking with friends upon our return home, many of them watched the partial eclipse, not realizing how amazing a total eclipse really is, or not realizing the difference between a 98% eclipse and 100%. It made me so glad that we were able to realize what an opportunity we had and grab it. It was utterly amazing.

We listened to much of Patricia Wrede’s Lyra series on our way to and from the campground. It’s a fun series though I wish the narrator was a little more sensitive to context and emotion in the material. We arrived home to love from the cats and the first lemon cucumbers ready for picking, some cherry tomatoes and several squash including a pink banana. I love squash and am so excited about our squash plants this year but it may be quite a challenge to figure out how to store and eat all of it.

art, unschooling

a few memorable moments from midsummer

We watched a quail family wandering nearby

and deer visiting

spotted tiny pumpkins and melon flowers, growing apples

picked apricots to give to Grandma

went to the library and came home with an armful each

played badminton

met friends at the waterpark

found this flower in the yard and wondered what kind it was

brought friends home for air-conditioned playtime

helped clean our old house to get it ready to sell

found that squirrels love apricots and honeydew tendrils, researched deterrents, found that predator urine may keep them away, or not

made cat memes


watched our grapes get bigger

saw a new kind of dragonfly

read so many books

went hiking with friends and on our own

made popsicles

tried blueberry lemonade

made a new Magic The Gathering deck with dad, then tested it

Gavin went to several teen/tween night games, where the kids organize things like capture the flag and go do it without adult supervision

went to Disneyland with Grandpa

visited the beach

went on a quick whale watching trip and saw a tangled humpback that the rescue team was working with and a non tangled humpback diving and breaching

celebrated Gavin’s 12th birthday with cupcakes, board games, Legos, and lasagna

sold a house

went to a friends play (The Three Musketeers)

went to a friends aerial acrobatics performance

(Lilah requested aerial lessons immediately upon hearing we were going)

found a new favorite graphic novel series (5 Worlds by Mark Siegel)

tried out some printmaking with a Tinkercrate set

built some new moving Lego machines and watched them wheel themselves around


Life is full of goodness.





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.