Homeschooling

Chihuahua

Beaumont, a city in East Texas, close to the boarder of Louisiana is among the wetter cities in our country.  With an average annual precip of close to 70 inches a year and surrounded by lake and bayou country, it is amazing that it shares a state with El Paso.  El Paso, one of the driest cities in the country receives on average 9 inches of rain a year.  What happens in the 830 miles between these two cities is the product of this fairly abrupt transition in climates:  Severe thunderstorms with dangerously big hail and a high frequency of tornadoes.  In fact the highest number of tornadoes of any region in the country is found in Texas.  So it really should come as no surprise that when a mountain range is pushed up in the western part of this meteorological shear zone there is a high likelihood of wind, especially on the leeward side of a range where the dry winter air mass sinks and descends rapidly back down the mountain range to the other side, pulled eastward towards the humid Gulf air.  It was such a mountain that we were headed to.

IMG_1791

On January 2nd we drove southwest across the border into Texas and about 45 minutes away to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  The mountains that make up this park were visible the whole time we were at the Whites campground.  It looked like an abrupt mountain range flanked by what seemed to be almost thousand foot tall lime stone cliffs.  We set up our camp nestled at about 5,500 feet elevation at a very cool campground at the mouth of one of the ranges intriguing valleys.  Once camp was set we were off to hike up and into the mountains.

Everyone was quite pleased to be walking.  Having spent a bit of time in the flattest landscapes of our country the towering walls that guarded the valley while we were hiking up was like medicine.  Jacob remarked that he enjoyed the hiking because it gave him time to think. Funny because we were in the car for days but it is the movement of our bodies, coupled with the openness that seems to let the thinking happen.

IMG_1814   IMG_1853 IMG_1860

There are the flat dreadfully barren expanses of landscape that appear in perhaps everyone’s subconscious when the word desert is used and then there is what happens to the desert when the landscape is not flat.  This desert mountain range acts like an expert water catcher and the strange and interesting plants that are able to make the most efficient use of this water are the norm here.  The mountain range acts like a sponge mostly because any moisture that does sneak into this area is pushed upwards by the landscape into to higher and thinner air until the air can’t hold that water anymore and it condenses.  Even though the Guadalupe’s are essentially in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert the highest elevations are completely forested.  Much of the high country is sloped northward which keeps the sun from beating down on it just that much more.  We didn’t make it that high on our hike though.  We made it up into the upper Chihuahuan life zones where plants were abundant and especially those designed to catch any water that fell.  Yuccas and cactus were all over. As we hiked higher we began reaching Junipers and Madrones which were cool to see because they are all over the place on the coast of Western Washington.  But there the Madrones are always on some south facing hill right on the coast poised to get the sunniest driest places in Western Washington.  Here they’re seeking out shade, small drainage bottoms, sort of showing a sign that more moisture is present here and not less.

IMG_1796 IMG_1797 IMG_1798 IMG_1805 IMG_1808 IMG_1809 IMG_1820 IMG_1821 IMG_1838

The following day we were reminded that we had gotten lucky, our hike had been warm and there was no wind at all.  That morning was very windy and cold. I made coffee and oatmeal on the little whisper light stove on the ground near some rocks instead of using our double burner Coleman stove on the comfortably arranged table. The kids and Michelle snuggled in the tent as long as they could before they needed to emerge into the wind blasts. We had to hold onto Ila! As we were packing up the wind grabbed the top of the roof rack out of my hand and flung it back aggressively.  Crack! The roof rack split and I yelled some colorful language.  That was when everyone knew I was not happy because we are one of those old school families that don’t cuss.  Somehow I put it back together and we got out of there.  Well, that was the expected norm there… wind.

We didn’t end up stopping at Hueco Tanks State Park like we had planned.  I have heard about this famous bouldering area for years and we made reservations to camp there.  When I got there I felt like it was just all wrong.  It was like if you were really craving vanilla ice cream, perhaps this has never happened to you, but you just want vanilla ice cream.  When it comes out it wasn’t ice cream at all it was like one of those weird Indian deserts…..sweet meats.  Ever try sweet meats?  Terrible.  If they bring out chocolate ice cream than it’s like, OK, that sucks, but I’ll eat it any way.  But no chocolate, it was like Indian sweet meats.  I hate that stuff.  I wanted my vanilla ice cream! Well, not only were you suppose to have reservations for camping, we were suppose to have reservations for bouldering and we were suppose to have a guide….for bouldering!  Just like I have never understood why I would ever want to eat sweet meats we weren’t even close to understanding why we would want to stay and deal with how convoluted and not relaxing the whole thing felt….so we left.

We drove on, almost directly North to a spectacular state Park called Oliver Lee State Park, which was nestled at the base of the San Andreas Mountains across the valley from the famous White Sand Dunes in New Mexico.  Here we had arrived exactly where we wanted to be and we never knew we wanted to be there.  We loved Oliver Lee State Park, we stayed there the next day and night and hiked up the fossil filled limestone canyon.  It was just us, it was great, it was better than ice cream.

IMG_1843  salt lake2 IMG_1851 IMG_1863 IMG_1872 IMG_1876 IMG_1879 IMG_1886    IMG_1906

On January 5th we got up on another chilly morning and went to the largest expanse of white sand dunes on earth.  Two hundred and seventy some odd expansive square miles of desert are all made of grains of white gypsum that comes from several thousand feet higher in the mountain range directly west of the dunes.  It’s a case of the right geology and the right dry and windy climate that come together to create this very cool place.  Fortunately much of it is protected within a national monument because an enormous amount of the land between these two desert mountain ranges belongs to the US Airforce, warnings of missile testing north and south of the Monument is everywhere.

The Dunes were a sublime experience and Elias wrote about them in his Main Lesson book:

“White Sands was huge.  We went to White Sands, N.M.  It was totally not what I expected.  I thought there would be little mounds of sand, but there were huge sand dunes.  The dunes were very soft, cold, and about 60 to 100 feet tall.  When we left New Mexico we went to Arizona but that’s just another story.”

IMG_1910    IMG_1925  IMG_1938 IMG_1939 IMG_1943IMG_1916

After the sand dunes and many days of literally freezing mornings, I promised everyone we were headed to warmer places.  We kept lucking out with a warm day here and there in this windy desert but the weather was about to get quite a bit colder.  The last mission in Chihuahuan Desert was to go find an authentic Mexican restaurant in Las Cruces.  On the drive in we settled on a brew pub that looked like it would take care of business.  When we shuffled in to find our seats all of the locals were starring hard especially as Michelle attempted to nurse Ila.  Most of them looked like they had never smiled in their lives.  No way.  I got everyone up and even though everyone was getting hungry and cranky we piled back in the car and resorted back to plan A:  authentic Mexican.  Since it was Sunday in Las Cruces it took awhile but we found it and it was sooooo good – the real deal.   Back in the car and off seeking the sun.

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, Camping, Car camping, Chihuahua Desert, Family camping, Family Climbing, Guadalupe Mountain National Park, Hiking, Homeschooling, Hueco Tanks State Park, Oliver Lee State Park, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, San Andreas Mountains, White Sands New Mexico | Leave a comment

Caves

We promised Elias that we would take him to visit a cave for his birthday.  When we made that promise we had no idea how easy it would be to keep and that we would be able to visit two cave systems instead of just one.  The morning of the 28th of December we drove into swampy east Texas and onward, through humid Houston, the 4th largest city in the country and onward into rolling Texas ranch country watching the deciduous forests slowly widen and prickly pear start appearing.  We drove into San Antonio where we stopped for groceries; here the forests were made up of 15 – 20 foot tall Pinion Pine, Gambles Oak, Juniper, and some sort of short Cedar.

During the drive Michelle found a wonderful camp ground only 40 minutes beyond San Antonio called Cascade Caverns Campground.  When we arrived we stepped out of the car, set up our tents and quickly signed up for 2 nights instead of one. The kids tramped out of the car after 2 days of driving and quick as a wink geared up with bow and arrows, backpacks, pocket knives and trowel heading like the lost boys (and lost girl) of Neverland into the woods for adventure.

IMG_1630 IMG_1631 IMG_1636

 It turns out that just beyond San Antonio there lies the remains of ancient reef systems.  The sea receded leaving the limestone remains of what’s called the Texas Hill Country.  These hills harbor a very high concentration of caverns.  One such cavern was located right under our tent at the campground that we decided to call home for the next several nights.  We signed up for a tour the next morning which Jacob has taken the time to explain here:

Elias, Dad and I walked to the meeting place.  There were about 10 people.  The guide came and we all started to walk.  The guide started to tell us about the caves and this is what he told us:  “The caves were created by water 140 million years ago.  All of the land was under water and the silt and dead life was made into limestone.  Limestone has a slow dissolving point in water.  When the water receded and the land was uplifted, all of the rain water went to the lowest point.  So when that water sat on the stone it started to dissolve creating the caves.” 

An interesting thing is that in most cave systems the stalactites and the stalagmites grow and inch every 80 years or so, but in these caves the stalactites grow an inch every year.  But here, every few years the caves would flood and knock down the cave formations. 

Also because of the very wet nature of this cave there are two animals that live here, Bats and the Cascade Caverns Salamander which is endemic to this particular cave system.

IMG_1640 IMG_1641 IMG_1644 IMG_1645

On December 30th we loaded up the car and once again headed west.  This time we drove 6 and half hours through landscapes becoming consistently less vegetated.  Slowly the trees where outnumbered by prickly pear.  Cat Claw Acacia, Creosote, and a few other very shrubby plants took over and finally a complete lack of moisture gave way to barren expanses of rock, dirt, sand and oil rigs.  The lofty rigs and big aggressive oil trucks were the only things we saw through the flat landscape until we crossed the border into New Mexico.  With  only 30 minutes of our drive remaining the view became hillier with soap tree yucca and prickly pear, while desert grasses became numerous and a grand desert mountain range loomed ahead with Carlsbad Caverns tucked somewhere in the landscape.  We drifted into White’s City Campground at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains.  We were the only tent campers there with the entire desert to ourselves.  This may be due to freezing evening and early morning temperatures in the 20’s…

IMG_1693 IMG_1694 IMG_1701

On December 31st we hopped in to the car and drove the several miles up the hill to the entrance of the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Carlsbad was huge.  The immensity of the Cavern chambers was not what any of us expected.  Our birthday boy, Elias explains the caverns as “fun….very fun”.  Elias goes on to explain.

“The Stalactites and the stalagmites going together were awesome, I loved them.  It was VERY big.  It felt like a different planet.  I’m still not believing it was real. I really liked the underground ponds and the curtains.  Like when you put your flashlight up to them it shined through them and you can see red.” 

We all learned the quick way to remember the difference between the cave formations from our guide, she said the stalactites hold “tight” to the ceiling and you need to be careful of the stalagmites as you “might” trip over them as you walk.

The enthusiasm Elias was showing made it all worthwhile for me.  I am not a cave person; my favorite parts of the caves are the entrances where all of the living things are found.  In Carlsbad Caverns for example the entrance is huge and hosts one of the coolest natural shows on earth.  Every sunset for half the year thousands of bats pour out of the entrance to this cave creating what looks like a sunset plume of smoke for miles in every direction.  Unfortunately we were not there for the show, but we were there for Elias’s birthday and he was very happy about that.  The actual birthday was on the first of the year and our plan for that day was to take it easy around camp, open presents and enjoy the day slowly.  The big party, the big birthday bash that Elias would remember forever was going to all of those cool caves.

IMG_1704 IMG_1706 IMG_1710 IMG_1711 IMG_1712 IMG_1714 IMG_1716 IMG_1717 IMG_1718 IMG_1719 IMG_1720 IMG_1723 IMG_1737 IMG_1739

To end the day Elias and I hiked a trail from the visitor center about three miles all the way to our camp.  A great walk marked by a desert landscape he was just being introduced to.  We celebrated the New Year of 2014 around 8:30 pm which was about an hour past our family bedtime. We usually go into our tents when it gets dark and rise after dawn. This night we sat around a fire, watched the stars, reminisced about our crazy year to date, shared gratitude for our life, our family and friends and thought about the year to come.

IMG_1751 IMG_1753 IMG_1782

IMG_1755 IMG_1758 IMG_1759 IMG_1764 IMG_1765 IMG_1766

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, Camping, Car camping, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Cascade Caverns, Family camping, Homeschooling | 4 Comments

Florida

Recently while sitting at a Starbucks in Tucson, AZ I overheard two women about my mother’s age having a conversation.  I couldn’t help but to overhear them because they talked so loudly – ok maybe I eavesdropped a bit.  Most of it was about online dating younger men, something about their ex-husbands and they kept on referring to each other as cougars.  One said while referring to a mutual friend, “yes can you believe it, she gets so excited when her grandchildren come to town, she drops everything…you would think that is all she cares about…” The other woman clicked her tongue and they went on to discuss some of their other friends. Well they could have been talking about my mom (and if they are reading this blog, I want them to know that my mom is the kind of grandma that I want to emulate!)  My mom came to be with us after each child was born and most recently after Ila was born and stayed with us for a month!  She was instrumental in helping us prepare and sell our house and helping us to manifest this year.  She somehow makes each of her 9 grand kids think they are the apple of her eye and time spent with her feels priceless.  These are the reasons why we planned to spend the month from late November through late December in Florida with my mom and her partner Michael.

As we drove from Cumberland Island to Coconut Creek, Florida, the boys read off their food requests on the phone to my mom, watermelon, lox, cream cheese, bagels, mangos, hamburgers, ice cream. We arrived tired, filthy and so happy. Our time in Florida spanned Thanksgiving, Chanukah, my birthday and Christmas.  After months of traveling mom and I kicked off our time with a (much needed) massage and facial, so funny going from wilderness camping to spa and such a delight.  We visited the Keys right after Thanksgiving and upon our return we headed to Orlando.

 Now, we visit Florida a few times a year and rarely go to Orlando.  Elias and I just finished reading Harry Potter: The Sorcerer’s Stone and our family was set on visiting Universal Studio’s brand new Harry Potter World. This too is pretty funny after spending the last few months in the wilds of America but it was a blast! If you ever visit one of those big Disney like parks you may have had the experience of having to wait on line forever. We timed our visit just right – off season and before the December holidays as the lines were only 5 minutes or less.  This may not be worth mentioning except for the fact that Joseph and Jacob must have ridden the roller coasters 20 times literally doing laps!  Hogwarts was awesome and I felt like I was a riding a broomstick which was totally cool (although the 3D action slowed my mom and Michal down for a bit.) Ila rode on her first carousel in Dr. Seuss Land and was over the moon riding it 3 more times with her brothers and daddy.  Day two we visited the part of Universal with the movie rides. I think the highlight for Elias and Joseph was the live animal show where the animal “actors” do a bunch of tricks.

A Orlando IMG_1501

As if roller coasters and Harry Potter weren’t enough excitement, we met Jeremy, Joseph’s friend who is now a helicopter pilot in Orlando. In all of my 39 years visiting Florida, I rarely see manatee. I have one memory from when I was a kid seeing the manatee amongst cruise ships in Fort Lauderdale but not a close and clear viewing of these gentle huge animals. Jeremy took us to a spring where the water stays a constant 70 degrees. The manatees float in and hang out as the river water gets cooler, leave to eat in the nearby river and then return to the spring. The clear blue spring was beautiful and stocked with fish and manatee.

A manateesIMG_1511 IMG_1507 IMG_1503

On our way back to Orlando Jeremy surprised us and offered to take the kids and I on a quick helicopter ride!  Jacob and Jeremy in the front, Elias and I in the back with Ila on my lap. Totally felt like Top Gun…I know they didn’t ride helicopters in Top Gun but I couldn’t get the image out of my mind.  It was a great end to the mini north Florida adventure.

IMG_1530 IMG_1529 IMG_1523 IMG_1519 IMG_1518

Between Orlando and the rest of our visit we focused on school, writing, sea turtles, beaches, family and exploring all sorts of cool animal sanctuaries. We spent many days with Mimi my almost 93yr. old grandmother and the boys went on countless dates with Aunt Libby my dad’s sister, always coming home with trinkets and smiles.  As my 39th birthday approached I really had everything I wanted and needed shy of my brothers.  My birthday wish came true as they came to visit and celebrate –  Simon and Susan and the kids from Asheville and Jack fleeing cold Long Island, New York sadly without his kids.  My heart was full!

IMG_1547IMG_1555Ila and Jack

Florida was an important anchor for each of us. After months on the road even with family and friends we were a bit tired and the boys needed a sense of predictability and structure. Grammy (my mom) represents this as well as unconditional love and support. We have spent important time with her over years especially since my dad passed away 4 years ago. Somehow she makes sure that she is present in our life and in my brother’s lives at all of the most important times. The long visit also gave us a chance to improve our Rumikub game and hang out with and get to know Michael.

Right before we left Florida we celebrated Christmas.  Growing up Jewish my first experience with Christmas was with Joseph’s family when we were dating.  I love celebrating with him and with his family in Charlottesville.  The years of celebrating Christmas in Bellingham and having our own tree still feels weird to me and against the grain. The kids are growing up with a sense of Jewish identity and we celebrate Christmas as well.  For us these celebrations are more about family and coming together than it is about religion.  We see Christmas as more of a welcoming of a winter celebration. So here we are in Florida where my mom has NEVER had a Christmas tree but as she said “there is always the first”. We enjoyed a “Jewish inspired” Christmas, stockings and gifts in the morning, movies in the afternoon followed by a great Chinese dinner…take out!

 Gifts packed up, hugs and kisses all around, Dec. 26th we packed up the car, said our goodbyes to the warm humid air, pulled up the anchor and hit the road…destination New Orleans!

Mimi and Ila A Christmas IMG_1561

Categories: Car camping, Family camping, Florida Keys, Homeschooling, Play | 1 Comment

The Keys

As we drove south of Miami we passed the last turn offs to Everglades National Park and continued south.  Eventually the road kept going but the land did not.  The Over Seas Highway continues traveling 127 miles jumping from island to island or key to key via a series of very long bridges all the way to Key West.  Instead of a landscape panorama we’d been watching through the windshield up to this point now it was all Ocean Blue.  “Where are we?” “I want to live here!” Elias hollered out as we cruised along like a ship at sea.

Bahia Honda 2

The lower Keys are technically part of the Caribbean in several respects.  The climate is considered tropical and is the only tropical climate in the contiguous United States.  The history is well tied into that of the infamous pirates of the Caribbean which included Key West’s strategic location as an ideal staging ground for the US military to fight and eventually defeat piracy in the region.  Then there are the people and pace of life which is totally Caribbean, meaning laid back and friendly.

We had reserved our camp 6 months ago which was for the next 7 days.   It was located around mile marker 95 which is below the 25th Parralel on Bahai Honda key, a quiet and undeveloped State Park reached soon after the Seven Mile Bridge.

When we pulled into Bahia Honda State Park the gals working behind the check in desk were stoked to hear about our trip, very friendly.  Our camping spot was just perfect on a very quiet lagoon with the back side of our camping spot tucked aside mangroves.  The Mangrove forests that make up the bulk of the trees in The Keys actually extend throughout much of southern Florida’s coast and estuaries’ making up the most extensive Mangrove forest in the western hemisphere.  During high tide at night, the sea came in just shy of camp surrounding the site by water on either side.  There was definitely an organic sea grass odor that wafted in and out of the tent and our dreams.  Even with the highs every day in the low 80s there were no mosquitoes.

Bahia Honda camp 1

We began each day sipping coffee and watching the many different types of shore birds on the Lagoon and in the Gulf but then spent most of the time on the beaches on the other side of the island in the Atlantic Ocean.  We would home school, cook and eat dinner right there next to the beach as well.  Lovely.

Through the entire week we made one trip to Key West  for an evening of wacky sunset fun with Grammy and Michael (our Key guests for a few days) and a one day trip to Big Pine Key to see the tiny Key Deer species endemic to the area.  Other than that we stayed very busy with an intentional meditation of soaking up the tropical sun during the last few nights of Hannukah… We called it “B’Chai Chanukah” on Bahia Key.  Bathing suits were just about all we wore for the week…snorkling, throwing frisbee, swimming, home schooling , learning about the place and so on.

Key West 2IMG_1358IMG_1388 IMG_1385 IMG_1384 IMG_1398 IMG_1397 IMG_1425

To the north the entire country was cold.  We heard about snow in Asheville, we heard that it was even in the teens in Bellingham, which is rare.  We heard that temperatures were getting well below zero  in parts of the Rocky Mountains.  Places through Montana and Wyoming where we began our trip were under a blanket of frigid air.  The important thing is that we weren’t there.  We were here where cold only existed in form of an evening beer and an afternoon ice cream.  Not that I don’t like cold.  I’ve made a career of being in the cold.  But I seemed to have hit a threshold, perhaps it was last winter and I haven’t been able to warm up.  It was not sudden though.  It was year after year –  there I am in the snow, in the winter, year round.  Granted, there’s always the reward of cold smoke spraying my face, there’s the crystal sublime landscape that’s all mine, but there have been one too many arctic chills setting in further than my down clothing could protect.  Too many hours, days trudging in white out, snow, rain, wind….lots and lots of wind.  Not normal wind, wind that bites and doesn’t care. Then there’s the cold rain.  The rain soaks in beyond my gortex jacket and this is my second jacket….the rain should only last for two more days; day after day of cold rain; drizzle; snow ; blizzard; My fingers are still numb, numb from cleaning out gear with cold, numb fingers that make me want to scream….and barf; But I can warm up.  I am slowly warming.  Here in the Keys the water and the air temperature are both in the 80s.  The wind is warm and tropical and I am starting to thaw.

IMG_1383 IMG_1316 IMG_1311 IMG_1307 IMG_1304 IMG_1293

At the end of the week as we drove back towards Grammy’s house we were gritty from sand and browned from sun.  The mood in the car was quiet and happy.  It was a satisfied quiet that comes from days spent slowing down time.  The evening sunsets with pelicans drifting by and the boys wrestling on the beach while we make dinner are forever imprinted on my mind.

IMG_1434 IMG_1440

Categories: Bahia Handa State Park, Camping, Car camping, Ecosystems, family, Family camping, Florida Keys, Homeschooling, Snorkling | 1 Comment

Thank you Chickens

Annique, my wild and beautiful Prescott College roommate and Thomas her friendly, intense and loving husband whom she also met at college settled down in the little town of Putney, VT. We couldn’t leave New England without a brief visit.  Over a decade ago we visited them in their cute rustic house on Putney Mountain with a 2 year old Jacob. Thomas shared tales of tracking animals in the VT winters – hare, deer, weasel following their prints in the snow, as Annique cultivated her hearty garden and found her own roots in the rugged and beautiful North Country.

It’s funny how the little things that seem inconsequential in our life can make subtle and lasting ripples. Way back in 2002 Annique taught us the art of singing to their chickens when we gathered the eggs to thank them (and to calm the rooster so he didn’t peck at us)!

”Thank you chickens,

thank you chickens,

for your yummy eggs,

for your yummy eggs”…

That little chant has become part of our family thankful repertoire all of these years since and is such a sweet way that Annique and Thomas are woven into our everyday life.

Over the last few years they designed and built a beautiful home tearing down the old house and keeping and developing the gardens. Annique, a well respected Midwife and Thomas an accomplished Acupuncturist and Chinese Doctor, share an office/practice in Putney called Medicine for the People and seem to be living a very busy and meaningful life as integral resources in their community.

Pretty quickly our families connected in a warm and deep way.  This visit we met Samuel their very sweet 4 year old son.  Elias quickly and quietly got to work on Samuel’s train set and Ila at dismantleling Elias’ work! As they have been lacking in traditional toys they were quite pleased to play and play and play and Samuel was a generous playmate.

Jacob was under Thomas’s spell after quickly realizing that they share common interests…Thomas has a vintage collection of comic books…! This coupled with his mastery in the art of bow making, tracking and animal awareness kept Jacob teetering between nonstop questions and nonstop reading.  He had his first introduction to characters like “the Punisher” and was later given a three volume set of books on how to make bows and arrows, the Bow Makers Tome.  Jacob was SOLD!

Although our visit was short we found time to hike through the beautiful VT autumn with Annique and Samuel, walking a few miles up the road from their house towards the top of Putney Mountain watching raptors soaring on the drafts above. The kids played on a magnificent old and huge tree, hiking home barefoot and free.

The day before we arrived, Annique, Thomas and their friends killed and prepared chickens for the winter – 100 of them.  Although in my vegan years this would have been quite difficult for me to bear, in my recent incarnation as an omnivore I was intrigued by the process.  Our drive across the country has allowed for a few good conversations on food, food choices, raising animals and farming. Very recently Jacob and I discussed different slaughtering techniques and theories comparing factory farmed animals and humanely raised animals. I understand, based on my reading and my brief time working on a ranch in Colorado, if killed humanly the animal does not experience fear or as much anticipation and terror in the end.  This is so much kinder to the animal and healthier for the person eating the meat.  Unsurprisingly, this was Jacob’s first question to Thomas after finding out about the chickens. Thomas described how he held each chicken closely and compassionately in his arms until he felt them stop “buzzing like a refrigerator” and felt more calm.   A wide eyed Jacob (and Michelle) were captured by this story.

Evening was spent with the boys helping Thomas stack a truck full of wood near the back door of the house in preparation for a long VT winter as Annique and I prepared incredible chicken enchiladas and fresh salad from the garden.  Around the fire Thomas brought out arrow making materials and the boys learned the art of crafting their own arrows by gluing on the feathers and the tips with the proper tools. They made a list of all of the things that Jacob needed to craft his own bow over the next few months which fit in perfectly with his 6th grade Waldorf curriculum and made missing school a tiny bit easier to bear.

We came full circle that night singing our thankfulness to the chickens with a deeper sense of gratitude and understanding.  All holding hands and smiling at each other around the dinner table we giggled as we sang –

”Thank you chickens,

thank you chickens,

for your yummy meat,

for your yummy meat”…

Stocked with delicious syrup and VT hard apple cider, we packed the minivan and shared hugs trying to convince our friends why reuniting in Arizona this winter is an excellent idea (hint hint if you are reading this Annique and Thomas).

DSC_0454

Categories: Accupuncture, Autumn, Hiking, Homeschooling, Medicine for the People, Midwife, New England, Prescott College, Putney Mountain, vT, Waldorf Curriculum | 1 Comment

Apples

We drove north out of NYC under a perfect blue bird day.  Our mission was our friend’s farm in Upstate NY.  Mike and Rachel use to live about three houses down from our home in the Lettered Streets in Bellingham, WA.  Two years ago they moved to a beautiful country house in the rolling hills of the Hudson River valley about 2 or so hours up the Taconic Parkway north of The City. It was pretty much guaranteed that when we hung out with Mike and Rachel there would be ample full belly laughing.  We were sorry to see them go from Bellingham although we were now psyched that we would have a good solid week of  merry making.

Haley, Andersons

Their big country farmhouse in its pretty pastury landscape prepared us to be poised and ready for the start of one of the most spectacular shows on Earth.  The deep green summer foliage was just receiving it’s first brush strokes of reds, oranges and yellows.  This was actually part of the grand plan:  spend the Autumn in the east, starting up north and working our way south so we can experience the colors to their maximum potential for the longest duration.  This was going to be the kid’s first time experiencing the whole show beginning to end.

Mike and Rachel have three kids, Quinn, age 10, Tula, age 6 and Harper age 1.  Quinn won the take home prize on that first evening for providing us with the most memorable laughs, a child with no regrets and a skilled dancer and (hilarious) entertainer.  The image of Quinn dancing around with gusto to some Abba tune takes the cake.  Although to be fair Tula, an explosive fire cracker, is a close second with her ability to entertain “valley girl style”!

The first night we stayed in their house but for the next several nights we stayed across the country road at this very old house owned by a previous governor of Alabama.  The “Govna’s house”, as we called it a very old and immaculately restored farmhouse built in the mid 1800s and furnished right out of a magazine with a very expensive mix of classic farmhouse/southern-country/NYC-entertaining. We were comfortable but concerned that the kids would touch an antique or commune with one of the ghosts…pretty sure that the upstairs creaking doors were ghosts of farmers past…maybe not.  What it did have was three artsy fartsy terrier/poodle type dogs who where given a pile of shredded cheese on the kitchen floor each day after their morning walk.  Two of them suffered from extreme neurosis.  One of them (the biggest one) was terrified of everyone and was curled up in a corner the whole time while the others loved to freak out and bark all night, every night.  In the end, the house was a bit weird but was more fun and novel than anything else.

Mike and Rachel have lots of acreage and several ponds on their land.  Throughout that week we went fishing, running, picked apples, caught up on work and home schooled quite a bit while the kids where in school. The Haley’s showed us a great time in the country which included the dukes of Hazard ride to the next farm – kids hooting and howling out of the sunroof!

photo-12 photo-13 photo-21

On Thursday we went to the Gunks, (Shawgunks, NY) one of the most famous climbing areas in the country located close by.  The Gunks were plenty fun for cragging but beware, it’s $17 dollars per person to climb for the day.  For me that took quite a bit of the fun out of it.  In the end I wouldn’t go out of my way for that.  The odds of waiting in line for a popular route were high, and there were a lot of people there.  Also, it could be that each of these routes have seen more ascents than any other collection of climbs in the country.  Most of the climbing was uncommonly slick and steep, which made for some welcome exercise all said and done.

Elias at the Gunks The Gunks

On Friday we went to check out the Hawthorn Valley Waldorf School where the kids attend and Mike works.  Waldorf is an educational system that began in Austria at the beginning of the 20th century.  The system is based on Rudolph Steiner’s philosophy stating that a child’s development into adulthood requires a strong competence in moral responsibility, educational integration into their practical lives as well as an emphasis on promoting a growing child’s freedom of spirit and expression.

A very rural and pretty country side surrounded this picture perfect school which looked more like a small village in the countryside of Europe.  Actually the school itself was on one side of the street and the Waldorf health food store and farm on the other.  The farm was actually quite large with a creamery and a fermenting area.  One of the elements that have always rung true for me about Waldorf schools is their natural appeal.  The buildings were beautifully sculpted to blend into the natural environment surrounded it.  This gives a calming vibe and pulls you into the community.  The fact is though, that the school where our kids attend in Bellingham (and where Mike used to teach), the Whatcom Hills Waldorf School, is next to impossible to top.  Much smaller and simpler than this one but with great community and home town vibe.  We were reminded that we have what we wanted right at home.

The last few days were great fun.  We moved back into Mike and Rachel’s house and Mike and I got the chance to go and get rowdy at the local pub.  On the very last day we picked enough apples from their young apple and pear orchard to make several gallons of fresh apple cider.  Actually I think more than several.

Haley's Pond photo-17 photo-18 (2)

Next stop, Putney Vermont to visit our friend Annique and Thomas’s.

Categories: Apple Cider, Hawthorn Valley Waldorf School, Homeschooling, Hudson River Valley, The Gunks, Waldorf, Whatcom Hills Waldorf School | 2 Comments

Cornucopia

The long drive to visit our beloved friends on the south western shores of Lake Superior was an important transition in our trip from the “tone setting” nuclear family wilderness part to the reconnecting with extended family and old friends’ part. Although I excitedly awaited the reunion with my college roommate and her family, I felt the change in the air not quite ready to leave the wild lands. This said, the wilderness that met us on our journey north was unexpected and delightful.

IMG_0778IMG_0757IMG_0735IMG_0842

On the other side of the spectrum were our kids. With the excitement of spending time with ANYONE other than their parents, the boys encouraged us to keep driving from the Missouri River in South Dakota, 12 hours to the far reaches of WI. I will admit, this was the first time that Ila ever saw Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers or Dora…thank goodness for PBS!  Arriving at 11:00 pm to the open arms of Jen and Andrew at Spirit Creek Farm, we were ushered into their super cool guest yurt, stoked with wood burning fire we were tutored on the basics of the composting toilet before tucking 3 sleepy kids into bed.

IMG_0924 IMG_0923

The time that followed felt much longer than the 5 days that we stayed.  The children coupled up quite quickly slipping away to the magic of the farm and the house, Jacob and 11 yr. old Willa, Elias and 8 yr old Ivy with 6 yr old Lake and Ila tailing behind.  Although the kids met when Jacob and Willa were only 3 and 4 and Elias and Ivy only baby hatchlings, the bond was set and they became inseperable. This was odd as we had been traveling as a tight unit for so long and now there was literal space amongst us. This allowed Jen, Andrew, Joseph and I time to collapse the better part of a decade since we last saw each other and catch up on the essentials of life.

IMG_0765IMG_0800

Spirit Creek Farm, the brain child of Andrew and nurtured by Jen is a fermenting foods paradise.  The kind of place you would dream up as you’re imagining your ideal life but most likely surrender to something less ideal. We learned the basics and tasted a rainbow of fermented veggies on our visit. (I still crave the fermented green beans.) They have built a sustainable business over the last few years supplying fermented veggies to co-ops, grocery stores and restaurants around the Midwest all with solar power and locally produced delicious veggies. These days Andrew runs the bulk of the business giving Jen time to home school the kids. However it is definitely a family affair.  Joseph and the boys participated by picking 1200 lbs. of cabbage our 3rd day on the farm while Ila and I met with the chickens, pigs and shall we say acrobatic goats. I remember Jen saying years ago that they wanted to sell something that people get addicted to and they are on the money!

IMG_0917Flower Child2IMG_0919

In between, homeschooling, fermenting, farming and playing Jen, Andrew and the family initiated us into the culture of the area which had a lot to do with a bioregional love and pride for Lake Superior. Cornucopia is a close knit darling little town with local artisans and craftsman selling their wears around the small marina of sailing boats. We got to experience the lake life firsthand when the Sauter-Sargents took us sailing on Lake Superior, exploring the local sea (lake) caves, swimming and playing on the picturesque local beach.

IMG_0814IMG_0794IMG_0798Elias SailsIMG_0875

For appetizers one night Andrew brought home whitefish salad that almost brought me to tears (with joy). If I closed my eyes I could have been 12 years old eating whitefish on a whole-wheat-spinach bagel around our dining room table Sunday morning from Stuff and Bagels (or what Joseph calls Stuff me Bagels) my favorite Long Island bagel store. How could this be? Then Andrew asked, ”Michelle, I was always told that the whitefish brought in by the fisherman is shipped to the Jews in NY. Is this true?” Ha! Yes indeed! Thank you, thank you fisherman!

IMG_0872IMG_0885IMG_0932

Our visit drew to a close with a solar powered Beetles dance party that blew the breakers, starry knights, the howls of coyotes, delicious food, love and friendship. The boys wanted to stay forever however we needed to follow the call of tradition…the cousins Bar Mitzvah was 2 days away in NY…so long WI for now…

IMG_0876

IMG_0928

Categories: Fermented foods, Homeschooling, Lake Superior, Midwest, Spirit Creek Farm, WI, Yurt | 2 Comments

The Black Hills

The Black Hills are a cluster of forested mountains that sit like an oasis smack in the middle of the North American steppe or “Great Plains” and are a patch work of National Forest, National Park, State Park and private land that straddles the boarder of Wyoming and South Dakota.  In 2012 the United Nations general assembly recommended that the Black Hills be returned to the previous stewards of the land, the Lakota Native American Tribe.  What is to become of these recommendations is to be determined.

For us the attraction was nothing knew – some of the best summer rock climbing in the country.  A large portion of the climbing takes place in the Needles district of Custer State Park.  Let me tell you, if there is a better place for a couple young bucks like Jacob and Elias to get psyched on climbing I’m all ears.

IMG_0640IMG_0713

IMG_0646

The very hilly landscape is blanketed by a pin cushioned like forest of granite spires with 300 foot tall monoliths and 50 foot turrets which are easily accessible via trails amongst grassy Ponderosa forests.  If you wanted to climb them all good luck, you could probably do it in three life times, maybe.  The climbing is a play ground of cool fins, arrets and bubbly faces most of which almost always top out on some sort of peak or summit.  It’s a great place to climb if you don’t own much climbing gear because you won’t need it.  Cracks and places for natural pro are rare and the route setters were cheap, meaning bolts are few and far between.

I hope that when and if the Lakota get their land back the door stays open to climbing.  And I do hope they get it back. A large portion of the Southern Black Hills, nearby hilly forests and rolling grasslands make up Custer State Park, named after General Custer and famous for fantastic animal viewing.

IMG_0597c

I haven’t had the opportunity to read in great depth about why the UN Assembly on Indigenous Peoples recommended returning the park to the Lakota however I will say, you don’t need to read much to get a gist that things have not yet been set right.  The area encompassing Custer State Park is very important to the Lakota.  In 1868 a treaty was signed by the United States Government stating that this land would belong to the Lakota people forever.  In 1874 General Custer, who was given the task of rounding up Native tribes on the plains and placing them on their assigned reservations, marched into French Creek in the present day town of Custer and found gold.  He then opened up the Black Hills to a massive gold rush scrapping the US-Lakota treaty.  Eventually the Lakota would be pushed onto the current Pine Ridge Reservation.  However they weren’t pushed there by Custer himself.  The Lakota, the Cheyenne and the Arapahoe native tribes settled their age old differences (which included the Lakota taking the Black Hills from the Cheyenne in 1776) and ended Custer’s murderous rampage along with the whole of the 7th US Calvary at the Battle of Little Big Horn in South East Montana where Custer met his “Last Stand”.

It could be said that although Native rights have not been respected in this area, the rights of non-humans are currently well valued.  The park systems in this region remains one of the last North American sanctuaries for the American Bison, as well as home to large numbers of Elk herds, Mule Deer and White Tailed Deer, Cougar, Pronghorn Antelope, Prairie Dog and many other animals including wild donkeys that are very eager to meet you.

At the southern tip of 111 square miles of Custer State Park is Wind Cave National Park.  We visited the Wind Cave on our second day in the region.  Wind Cave is one of the longest explored caves in the world with 140 miles of cave now mapped (residing under one mile of surface area)  which leaves an estimated 90% of the whole cave yet to be mapped.  The discovery of this cave is due to the “wind” that  flows out of the cave during low pressure.  The breeze streams out of the cave’s only known natural opening which is the size of a volley ball.  The first explorers of the cave not only squeezed themselves through this absurdly small opening but they squirmed for hours on end by candle light.  A large opening was eventually built in the name of prospecting, where nothing of value was found, which made it possible for a young man named Alvin McDonald to lead tourists through the cave as early as 1892…all by candle light dragging sting behind him to find his way out.  Today being guided through this cave is easy, fun and fascinating.  One of the real gems of the Park is the fact that there are 44 more square miles of prairie protected above ground allowing one of the 4 largest and genetically pure herds of wild buffalo to roam free along with all of the other wild animals found in the region.

IMG_0597dIMG_0597fIMG_0597a

The majority of our time in this area was spent in the Needles District of Custer State Park.  Here we stayed in a secluded hilltop campsite next to Sylvan Lake.  Along with hiking and climbing we also found a quiet routine at camp which included schooling, playing in the forest, building forts and time around the camp fire with other travelers, including a British math teacher who gave Jacob math lessons in exchange for climbing lessons.

On September 11th we packed up camp and began our eastward migration but not without stopping first at Mount Rushmore.

IMG_0597b

Categories: Adventure, Bison, Camping, Car camping, Custer State Park, Ecosystems, Elk, family, Family Climbing, Great Plains, Homeschooling, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids | Leave a comment

Organic Farming in the Rockies

Larch camp
Day 2 – Day 6
Waking up in a Montana Larch forest to freshly picked huckleberries and French pressed coffee, care of my husband, as the kids slept, was delightful. After a slow morning of yoga in the sun and quiet chatting with Joseph I realized that nature is my medicine right now…wilderness, walks, crickets, wild chamomile, berries and quiet. There is a lightness that I haven’t felt in years creeping back into my spirit. It is contagious and I think we are each experiencing it in our own ways.
The previous evening was wonderful. As dinner was cooking on our camp stove the boys eagerly started their “adventure school” work, writing and drawing in their main lesson books about the beginning of our journey. Although I expect their enthusiasm will wear off as school becomes an integral part of the trip it was quite satisfying to see them work. Ila played her part. She participated by snatching up Mr. E’s crayons when nobody was looking, then running as fast as she could then stopping and eating them as he chased her down the trail. Ila’s entertaining yet goofy urge to eat crayon continued. We gave her a piece of paper with crayons so she could participate. When everyone was looking her way she would use them to draw. Once she decided everyone was looking away she shoved it in her mouth and started devouring as fast as she could. “Ila no!” someone would shout….back to drawing.
J and E 1st lesson
Ila's main lesson
From there we enjoyed the spectacular drive down to Missoula and took care of some busy work…Laundry, food shop, gas. We also learned that town life was complicated with our family of five. Instead of hanging around we wasted no time and headed North to the Salish Indian reservation.
Next stop, was our college friends’ organic farm, Fresh Roots Farm just outside of Polsen, MT. About an hours’ drive North from Missoula their picture perfect farm was nestled literally at the base of the dramatic western edge of the Rocky’s. The Mission Range towered above as we enjoyed this lovely resting place and opportunity for karma yoga. Weeding onions, gathering eggs, washing beets, sharing meals and playing in the sun, E was sold on the farm life and on his new 4 yr. old buddy Kena. Mr. J was psyched that it had wifi (read download more books) and an opportunity to learn how to fish and Ms. I was all about the animals. She made friends with the sheep, courageously pet a chicken and was pretty much the last gal standing at the end of each night with late night visits to see the cows, horses and donkeys. The stay included pasture walks, lovely hikes with refreshing and picturesque swims at nearby Flathead Lake – a lake so vast it seemed more like an inland sea with the Rocky Mountain rising abruptly out of its eastern bank.

Mr. E's new friend

Mr. E’s new friend


I, E, K on tractor
Days before we set off on our journey from Bellingham, Joseph Mr. J and I watched Food Inc. We wanted to educated ourselves before we traveled, knowing that the temptation to eat mindlessly and poorly on the road was too easy. We hoped that the film would make this decision simpler. Interestingly, we experienced the themes of the movie first hand on the farm. As the kids played on our last morning, our hosts prepared an incredibly bountiful box of veggies for us for the road and we packed up the car, a plane flew super low over us spraying the commercial seed potato farm adjacent to our friends’ farm. Although common to farm folk, it was incredible to our little town family that such spraying of pesticides (and earlier in the season, herbicides) was acceptable much less right next to a certified organic grower. The wind was quiet that day however is it realistic to say that all of the spray fell over the exact area and not in the common irrigation ditch or atop other parcels of land?
Flathead lake swimming
Kena fishing
Joseph and Karl harvesting
Over our last breakfast, Karl and Darcy, our farmer hosts gave us a quick lesson about commercial/organic farming regulations and practices as well as the impact of GMO’s and the power of large companies like Monsanto (with printouts regarding the major chemical companies that now own the majority of seed companies and the rights to the seeds as well as the major organic seed sellers).
camping at the farm
We left the farm with a focus on continuing to learn more about our food, visiting other farms across the country, remaining aware about our choices and feeling thankful for our friends in the gorgeous valley and their dedication to sustainable, organic growing…
The Farmers
Let the adventure continue. Next stop Glacier National Park.

Categories: Adventure, Camping, family, GMO, Hiking, Homeschooling, Montana, organic farming, Rocky Mountains | 7 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.