Back to the Lake

Testing the water.

Our vacation to the coast is over and we are back in Montana. While we miss the ocean we are excited to be back near the lake. The snow and ice are gone from one of our favorite state parks and we were able to spend a very sunny day sitting along the banks of Flathead Lake skipping stones and dipping our toes in the chilly water.

The big excitement of the day was building a bridge out to a few off shore rocks. Finally the perfect piece of drift wood was found and after much exertion it was put into place as the official bridge out to “Kids Only Island”. This definitely counted as a homeschool lesson for the day.




Move-In Checklist: Unpack Car, Hide Breakables, March for Bernie


The past week has been a whirlwind. We took the 16 hour trek by car and ferry from Vancouver Island to Helena, Montana and went right to work finding an apartment. After several days of criss-crossing the city looking at rentals, we finally found the perfect match and moved in that day. Only one thing could convince us the next morning to wake up at 6:15 am, put the unpacking on hold,  and drive one and a half hours to Bozeman….Senator Bernie Sanders.

DSC01214 DSC01215 DSC01223 DSC01224

Even though we’ve been in Canada for the past five months, we’ve been closely following the U.S. presidential primaries. We’ve had countless conversations with Canadians puzzled at the popularity of Donald Trump, and we’ve tried our best to explain that the Republican primaries are only a small fraction of Americans. Doing the math, 62% percent of the U.S. population is registered Republican or Independent, and the turnout of eligible voters has been about 17% during the primaries, accounting for a total of about 10% of the entire population casting their votes for Trump (and actually even lower because not all states allow independents to vote in primaries). However, the Trump media frenzy definitely extends north of the border and makes the numbers seem much higher than they actually are.

DSC01233 DSC01221

These conversations have also given us a clearer picture of what the often slandered “Democratic Socialism” actually looks like. Many of our neighbors on Vancouver Island were quite curious about how our health care worked, and they stared in disbelief as we did our best to explain the many complexities of the medical system in the States, one that ends in high debt and bankruptcy for too many Americans. It was our turn for astonishment when we heard details about the Canadian medical system, where there are no cashiers or credit-card readers anywhere to be found.

DSC01226 DSC01230

Our jaws dropped even more when we eventually learned we were the only family paying for our kids’ swim lessons out of pocket. In Canada parents get a monthly stipend for each child (both from the federal and provincial [state] governments) to cover both day-to-day expenses and extracurricular activities. This is on top of up to a year of paid (55% of total salary) maternity leave that either parent can take after the child is born. This was unfathomable for us, used to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in the U.S. which basically only ensures your boss can’t fire you.

DSC01231 DSC01225

We’re in no way trying to bash the United States. However, it can take a visit to another country to realize how large the gap between the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and its reality actually is. That the central pillars of Bernie Sanders’ political career (like equal pay for women and people of color, universal heath care as a right, debt- and tuition-free college education, etc.) seem radical shows how much American values have eroded over time. In the struggle of people vs. profits to control the government, profits are winning, and there is much work to be done to change a system that mostly functions to redistribute public wealth upward to the 1% at the expense of the 99%. We deeply believe the only candidate committed to fixing a rigged game is Bernie Sanders.

DSC01235 DSC01216

So, long story short, we woke up exhausted on Saturday morning but gladly made signs, drove to Bozeman, and spent two hours with hundreds of others rallying for Bernie Sanders. Democracy requires participation, not just voting one day a year, and this is the kind of homeschool lesson you can’t just read about in books. Being a citizen (as opposed to an elector) looks different for each person, but the essential element is working with others toward the common good. And to be honest, it feels good to be involved. Beginning in Canada we’ve been taking an hour each week to call potential voters around the U.S., and the kids have had a blast helping practice the script, listening to the actual conversations with voters, and finding far-flung places like Wisconsin and Alaska on the map. We’re convinced America needs a candidate that is people-powered, not profit-powered. We believe America is ready to #FeelTheBern!

Remembrance Day


It’s Remembrance Day here in Canada (and in other countries that were former territories of the British Empire), and red poppies are everywhere. This symbol of soldiers’ sacrifice comes from the following poem written in 1915 by the Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

This past week in homeschool we have been reading two excellent books about soldiers’ experiences in war: the picture book In Flanders Fields by Norman Jorgensen, illustrated by Brian Harrison-Lever and the collection of poetry War and the Pity of War, edited by Neil Philip and illustrated by Michael McCurdy. After reading aloud and discussing several poems from the latter, the Younger Fives were inspired to write one of their own.

“Do Not Go to War” by High Five
War is bad.
I call for help.
I am afraid of war.
I miss my family and my friends and my brother and sister.
But if I try to escape I’l die.

“The Grand Fire” by Five Ball
Fire roars through the forest.
Destroying everything in its path.
Animals try to run but are burnd in the clatter.

It comes across a village and decided to pillage.
And destroys that too.
That is the grand fire.
DSC00214 DSC00215

“Broken Movie” by Five of Hearts

In a tent, sheltered from the worst.
A pilot’s wheeled in, horribly hurt.
A picture of flying and being hurt goes across my mind
Like a broken movie that won’t stop.
A soldier’s wheeled in badly injured.
A picture of running and getting hurt goes across my mind
Like a broken movie that won’t stop.
More movies come and won’t stop
And I didn’t pay to see them.
DSC00216 DSC00217


Profound Panorama: A Day at Crater Lake National Park



Climbing up the sandy bank from the parking lot, we were unprepared for the view ahead. Circled by a ring of hills, the deep blue waters of Crater Lake glimmered below and held us mesmerized. Throughout the course of our visit to Crater Lake National Park, we experienced the lake from at least a dozen different viewpoints, and each vista was as impressive as the previous one.

DSC09904 DSC09917 DSC09918

The view is matched only by the equally magical landforms rising above the surface of the lake. Some, such as Wizard Island (first picture above), are visible from almost anywhere around the Rim Drive. Others like The Old Man (a mountain hemlock floating upright in the lake for over 100 years) take a little more patience (and a pair of binoculars). The kids were amazed to learn that the Phantom Ship (second and third pictures above) was actually 170 feet (17 stories) tall despite its tiny appearance from our elevated viewpoint.

DSC09913 DSC09914 DSC09912

The day wasn’t all seated vistas though, and the Younger Fives were hard at work (as always) completing their Junior Ranger booklets. They learned about the geology behind the volcanic eruption of Mount Mazama that created North American’s deepest lake, about the importance of rain and snowfall in keeping the lake replenished (it has no inlets or outlets), and about the Klamath tribe that historically lived in the area and whose present-day reservation is just south of the park. One of the kids’ biggest surprises came on the Scavenger Hunt Bingo; the park ranger pictured on the board was the one that administered the Junior Range oath to them. See if you can spot him above 🙂

DSC09916 DSC09920 DSC09921

One of the inescapable themes we all took away from the exhibits and conversations with people around the park was the impact of climate change at Crater Lake. The park has averaged about 44 feet of snowfall since the Park Service started keeping track in the 1930s, making it one of the snowiest places in the country. That number, however, has been dwindling for the past several years; the 2015 season only brought 18 feet of snow. About the same amount of precipitation is still falling here overall, but more and more is coming down in the form of rain and not snow. This is part of a larger problem of decreased snow pack that we’ve been seeing in our travels throughout the West this past year, from Colorado and Wyoming to California and Oregon.

October Drought
October Fire

The National Drought Mitigation Center puts out a weekly map of drought-impacted areas across the country, and the places impacted only seem to be growing (especially in the West).  Less snow means less fresh water flowing into rivers and streams, thereby creating a situation where below-average snowfall in Colorado helps fuel the chronic water shortages that we’ve seen firsthand in states such as California. Diminished snowfall also has a marked impact on wildfires by prolonging the dry season; at this moment there are 163 fires on public lands according to the US Forest Service, one of which is just miles from our present rental.


The Younger Fives feeling like giants in a stone model of Crater Lake.

Crater Lake has definitely inspired us with its beauty, and its cautionary tale about the link between climate change, snowfall, and drought is one we find hard to ignore. The Younger Fives take their Junior Ranger pledge pretty seriously, so in addition to staying on the marked trails and helping keep the animals in the park wild, taking action on climate change is another duty to help preserve national parks like this one. There are countless activities planned around the country tomorrow (Wednesday, October 14th) as part of the People’s Climate National Day of Action. While there might not be a rally nearby (which is our situation), there are many ways to raise awareness about addressing climate change, from posting or sharing on social media to being more mindful of our own energy and water use. Tomorrow we’ll be parking the car and taking the 4 Liters Challenge as part of homeschool, which is the amount of water (about 1 gallon) that hundreds of millions of people around the world must live on each day for all their water needs. What will you be doing? Leave your comments below!

Days of Pine and Roses


The signs are many that autumn is almost upon us, and the time seems right for a summer nostalgia post. We could dwell on our many walks past Coulter pines and desert roses to the swimming hole that is now dry; or we could describe the hint of chill in the air as we take our afternoon walks; but instead we’ll just highlight some of the flowers we came across during our summer in Southern California.

DSC09394 DSC09393 DSC09557 DSC09405

The last of the summer flowers also inspired an art project in homeschool this week. Five Spice had the excellent idea to use flowers as brushes and have everyone create pictures that incorporated petals and paint. And if we find ourselves pining for summer in the coming weeks, there’s always Coulter cone prints for an art class assignment 🙂

DSC09623 DSC09621 DSC09622 DSC09624