It was a real pleasure this week to be interviewed by Mollie and Kendall for The Group Project podcast. We talked about all of my favorite things: writing, conversation, adventure, and responsible social media!
We're excited to announce the official start of #OurParksProject! As of March 1st, we began our trek to visit all of our city parks and then all of our county parks, before tackling state parks. A process we expect to take several leisurely months, it felt good to take that first step.
While it's easy to lust after big adventures in far-flung lands, there's adventure waiting right within our neighborhood. We'll be documenting our visits to each park with photographs and descriptions, and an gentle encouragement to find the green space nearest you.
The project is still evolving, and that's the way we like it around here. When we explore with a loose vision in mind, we can make new connections and see the smaller details.
Join us as we travel Port Angeles, Clallam County, and the wide state of Washington in search of new trails, and new experiences. I'll be posting a tentative schedule soon, along with a post about our first park, the Dream Park in Port Angeles, WA.
With sunshine streaming in the big dining room windows this morning, we put ourselves together much more quickly than usual in order to take advantage of the beautiful weather. Picnic lunch packed, camera in hand, we headed to my personal favorite place: Salt Creek Recreation Area.
Wild winter storms have hammered the coast this past week, and Salt Creek beach was no exception. Large chunks of barnacle lay scattered across the sand at the high water mark. Battered fish parts offered up a feast to scavenging gulls. An abundance of crab pieces added color to the grey expanse as well. The real find, however, was a large blubbery chunk of....something. Reddish purple wrinkled skin on the outside and creamy white fat and muscle inside. We poked and prodded it, flipped it over, moved it around, and made our best guesses. Sea lion? Squid/octopus?
Little R was once again keen to bring it home with us, in all its smelly wobbly glory. I felt bad saying no, once again. The size of the chunk made it prohibitive, and we currently lack a good microscope to really dive deep on something like this. I also wasn't entirely sure of the legality of removing it. I think that legal aspect will stymie a lot of her collecting urges, unfortunately. I need to do more research on what is allowed and where.
Today was not a showy "look! we're learning stuff!" kind of day. And that's how we tend to like it around here. Today was about asking questions, and being present in the sunshine together. January in the Pacific Northwest can be a grey drizzly affair, so weather like this begs outdoor time.
We are starting to finalize a game plan for our parks exploration concept, and once that kicks off, we'll have loads of time outdoors scheduled. I'll update as soon as we have a firmer plan.
Is there such a thing as a "typical" homeschool day? Ask most relaxed homeschooling families and they'll laugh at the thought. Sure, there's a rhythm to the week, but often there's no strict schedule to abide by. At least in our household.
The kids have endured some rather invasive and intense grilling lately about our homeschooling. Comments ranging from "You should be taking more tests, and writing more." to "How can you spend so little time doing schoolwork each day?" and "Are you even learning anything at all??" Stressful and unnecessary for the kids to handle, and downright irritating to me.
The individual making these comments has never addressed these questions to me however, and my opportunities for explaining our homeschooling philosophy and routine have been nonexistent. So, I thought I'd outline them here instead! A way to describe what we do and why we do it.
We follow a relaxed homeschool method that approaches unschooling in its application. We use real-life experiences to learn subjects like math, English, science, history, etc, rather than strict curriculum, multiple choice tests, and worksheets. I follow the kids' interests and provide information and experiences that match their passions. I encourage hours of free play as a way to support curiosity and imagination. With loose parts, tools, and casual suggestion, the kids create/build and destroy. I view time spent outdoors as critical learning time. We ask questions and engage all of our senses in order to better understand our environment. We talk a lot.
Newspapers, books, magazines and hours spent at the library add to our daily information gathering. The kids are free to research any topic that interests them, and are not limited to the kids' section. We tackle the hard questions as they come up, often learning together. There is no end to the amount of talking that occurs in this house! The 5 'W's are encouraged (who, what, where, when, why). And differing opinions happen often. Did I mention the talking??
Rather than limited to same-age peers as they would be in a classroom, the kids are free to learn from people of all ages and experiences. A common phrase I used to hear at school as a kid, "We're not here to socialize, we're here to learn!" is a phrase not spoken in our house. My son counts the retirees he meets on the model airplane field as friends and peers. My daughter seeks out her grandma and her grandma's friends to talk to and learn from. No matter where we are, the kids are eager to talk to people around them. Age is not a limiting factor!
Today was an excellent example. We ventured out to the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, near Sequim, WA. One of Big B's favorite spots to visit, we were limited today by high tide and massive storm waves breaking heavily on the beach. We didn't venture out on the spit, but viewed it from several overlooks, and from the base of the cliff. Both kids chatted up the Refuge volunteer who was out doing a safety check on the beach, asking questions about rogue waves and when the tide would turn. On the return walk, we found a small dead bird along the trail. As other walkers came by, the kids showed them their find and hypothesized about possible causes of death, type of bird, and its age.
Little R was incredibly disappointed that we weren't able to bring it home with us for dissection. She's 7. She really wanted to be able to open up the belly to view its stomach contents, looking for plastics. And why would she want to do that? Well, because she's in love with animals, and we've been learning about the dangerous effects of plastics pollution in oceans the past few weeks. If the unfortunate bird had fallen in our yard, we would certainly have attempted the lab work. Being on a wildlife refuge however, we left it to be wondered at by other hikers. I'm sure it won't be the first time I'm asked to assist in dissection though!
Our days follow no script. And we like it that way. If you want to know more about our homeschooling strategy and ideas for learning, feel free to reach out and ask! We really do love to talk!
For a little reading on unschooling, check out these links:
Despite a dreary weather forecast, we headed out in the rain to a nearby city park, Lincoln Park. On the west side of town, this tends to be a park we drive by on the way to somewhere else. But, with heavy rain coming down, the tall dark trees and dense canopy cover made a welcome shelter for us this afternoon.
Today was a bit of a test run actually. We are tentatively floating the idea of a grand tour of the parks in Washington state this year. By our count, there are 3 National Parks, 142 State Parks, 21 County Parks (in Clallam County, where we live), and 28 City Parks (in our town of Port Angeles). All which add up to 194 parks! That's a lot of public spaces available to enjoy the outdoors! By doing this grand tour, we would really get to know our state. It's also a totally crazy outrageous idea, and we're pretty big fans of totally crazy outrageous ideas in this family.
We're still hammering out the details of this adventure. What exactly constitutes a "visit"? How on earth will we afford the gas for this?? (We've applied for a Next Challenge Expedition Grant, crossing our fingers!) Where will we find a boat to get to the island State Parks? How will we record the adventure? Are we nuts?
As we figure out the particulars, we'll post updates here.
What big plans in nature are in store for your family this year? Big or small, we would love to hear about them!
The window is wide open, and outside the bamboo sways in a late afternoon breeze. My son is on the cool tiled porch, creating another elaborate ink drawing in his favorite notebook. My daughter is around the corner of the porch, surrounded by a number of Indonesian teens, making friendship bracelets. The busy chatter of teenagers and laughter makes for a good backdrop for writing. talk about a
We have been in Sukadana roughly a week now. Our friends Jackson and Sara met us at the docks as we arrived in a speedboat from Pontianak. Talk about transportation! The four hour ride was a bouncy, hot, gasoline fume-filled ride along river and sea. A midday stop at a Malay village on sticks was made exciting as we had to clamber over the tops of other boats to reach the docks. The kids handled it well however, and we were able to grab a quick bowl of food at the tiny water-side restaurant. As with all places we've visited in SE Asia on this trip, the kids were a huge hit here. Many "hello mister!" and "hello miss!" as we ate and then attempted to climb back aboard.
The open water portion of the ride was probably the most exciting part. We enjoyed a 1.5-2ft swell, and the boat leaped and fell over the waves in big thumps. Little R found it most exciting and claimed it was "better than DIsneyland!" because it lasted longer, and actually took us somewhere rather than just going in circles. Big B managed to sleep through almost the whole thing. His ability to nap just about anywhere is mindboggling. In this instance however, he was fighting a slight cold and I think the sleep was just what he needed to recover.
Our first day here was spent getting unpacked, visiting the ASRI clinic and offices and meeting staff, as well as catching up with Jackson and Sara. They have been so kind to share their home with us while we stay here. A small blue tiled home, with a tin roof and a green front porch, it has open construction. This allows the heat to escape at the end of the day. It also allows geckos, and various other creatures to come into the home! Often at our meals, the kids are eager to spot the little grey-green geckos that scurry up the walls and across the ceiling. Definitely unusual dinner entertainment! At night, we sleep with mosquito netting draped over the beds as protection from local bugs. We've had some excitement in that every so once in a while a rogue cockroach has infiltrated the nets and made us all squeal squeamishly until either I or Jackson remove it. Nobody, including the old hands (ie Jackson and Sara) are fond of cockroaches. Ew.
We had a speedy introduction into the flora of Gunung Palung National Park during a visit to one of ASRI's reforestation sites on the edge of the park. Along with two other teenagers (children of two visiting doctors from New York state), Jackson took us out to see a patch of ground that is slowly moving towards a healthier forest. With detailed descriptions of the destruction surrounding the edge of the conservation site, plant and animal knowledge, and vast cultural background, Jackson provided a phenomenal introduction to the challenges faced in restoring rain forest in this part of Borneo. At this small site the kids handled themselves pretty well, considering the challenges of the terrain.
To access the site required a 15 minute walk along rice patties and smiling farm workers. A small channel of water required piggyback rides for both kids as it ran deeper and faster than they were capable of handling on their own. Once on the other side, we had the opportunity to see the effects of recent flooding, hike in boot (and leg!) swallowing peat forest, check out firebreaks, and also to hear more about the ecology of the forest and the efforts made to restore it. The teenagers we went with were wonderful companions and such great role models for Big B and Little R. With insightful questions, fresh curiosity, kindness, and patience, they made such a lovely addition to the outing. I was so glad that my kids could spend time with teens like that. They were far from the stereotypical "American teen".
We also did a day trip with the entire "doctor family" up to a more distant reforestation site, one that has seen greater challenges. With repeated burning, and total logging over the years, the staff has much more work to do here in order to restore the land. We were fortunate to get a glimpse of true rain forest on the edge of the site. The difference in temperature and density of plant life was staggering to behold. The line between logged and remnant rain forest was stark and heartbreaking to witness. The kids were quite nervous that our day would be spent trying to navigate through forest as dense as this. They were quite relieved to hear otherwise! Even experienced travelers and researchers can only pass a mile or two a day through such dense brush. It would have been slow going indeed, with kids as young as mine.
Instead, we walked through the restoration site, examining ants as we found them, and listening to Jackson's detailed knowledge of the forest. We were also privileged to participate in helping plant trees on the site, adding our own little effort to the massive task at hand. The kids got their hands dirty and were excited to be active participants. On this trip we got to taste "monkeyguava" fruits, and even eat a few ants' butts!! Having an ant specialist (myrmecologist to be exact) on hand meant we enjoyed the lemony treat. These particular ants spray a citric acid as poison to deter predators. To humans, it isn't toxic and only creates this super bright burst of lemon flavor in the mouth. the hardest part about enjoying the "snack" is catching the ants! They're speedy little buggers.
When not on field trips with Jackson, we've lazed around the house, wandered around town, drank our weight in cold sodas, and made forays to the beach. Life here definitely flows to its own rhythm. The heat and humidity create a lethargy that is hard to shrug off, particularly come afternoons. We've been fortunate to have a few rainy days and nights that have cooled temps and made for more comfortable sleeping. When it rains here, it pours!! Rain on a tin roof can be deafening! I absolutely love it though. It's a fun sound to hear late in the evenings, and certainly helps to drown out the persistent cries of the numerous roosters that wander the neighborhood.
There are so many new sounds here to get used to. Roosters are one of the main ones. The old adage "the rooster crows at dawn" is a crock of shit. Those monsters crow whenever the hell they feel like it! Our next door neighbor happens to be a carpenter. A carpenter who enjoys running his buzz saw at 630 in the a.m. And then there's the various mosques in town. With competing calls to prayer, it can be a cacophony of sound. Overall, the effect is pleasant and none of us are complaining. Just this morning we were treated to the sound of bearded Gibbons monkeys making noise in the hillside across the street. While we couldn't see them, it was still a fun sound to hear while eating oatmeal!
This experience has been by far our most rustic yet. The homes lack a/c or flush toilets and baths/showers. I am a proud mama to announce that both kids have finally mastered the unassisted use of the "squattie pottie". As for personal hygiene, we take frequent cold water bucket baths. It can be jarringly refreshing after a hot sweaty day! The trick is to splash yourself fast enough with enough buckets of water so that you get used to the cold water more quickly. Going slowly feels miserable. The kids prefer to take "baths" in a plastic laundry tub. I'm just happy they're getting (nominally) clean!
We will be moving on from here at the end of the week. We had hoped to travel to Tanjung Puting National Park, slightly to our south, but the cost of hiring a boat for 3 days has proved too costly. Instead, we are moving on to Lombok island...then...parts unknown!
It's hard to believe that we will have stayed so long in one place! 11 days in total by the time we depart Sukadana. It's been such a pleasure to explore a little town and to fall into a routine after much moving around in Vietnam. We're excited to see what the next half of our trip holds though! More dispatches to come!
Tuesday morning we were rushing to get out the door. Running late for school again. My bright red raincoat was still damp from the weekend’s camping trip out at Fort Stevens State Park on the Oregon coast. But I grabbed it anyway. Later, standing at school drop-off and waiting for the bell to ring, I fumbled about the pockets hunting for my keys. Instead of keys, I dragged out a handful of slim silver and maroon tent stakes.Read More
Search any women’s outdoor group, news article comments section, or hiking forum, and you’ll see some pretty strong opinions about women alone in the backcountry. Or solo women travelers, period. There seems to be such a stigma against wanting to be alone that’s made doubly so when female. The usual fears are aired about attack, injury, rape, safety, wild animals. While some are (slightly) more valid than others, it’s not something that’s inhibited me on my travels. It wasn’t because I’d decided to take a radical stand. It just didn’t occur to me that it was even something to worry about.Read More
When I first started taking the kids camping, there were a fair number of raised eyebrows. Even more so when I had the kids in their own separate tent, right from the start. It hasn’t always been easy getting on the trail with small children, but I’ve tried to make the best of it in order to encourage them to spend time outside and to love the wilds as much as I do. There are some things that make it easier for parents who are taking kids out for the first time.Read More
The logistics of single parent outdoor adventures can be daunting to say the least. There’s no partner to help set up camp while the other person cooks. And there’s sure as hell nobody there to help with tear down and the post-apocalyptic level of cleaning required when you get back home. There are times, just thinking about all the work necessary, raises a faint voice whispering “You don’t have to do this!” Thankfully, I ignore that voice.Read More