Wilderness Wednesday – Steigerwald Lake

We are finally settled in our new rental house in Vancouver, Washington! Leaving Montana and heading towards a more populated area we were afraid that we would lose the access to wild places that we love so much. However, we have been pleasantly surprised with how many parks and wildlife refuges exist in the greater Vancouver area. We were even more delighted to find out that there is a homeschool group that gets together for “Wilderness Wednesdays”. We love to get out into nature whenever possible, but what a great idea to make a special trip to a favorite nature based destination every Wednesday.

For our first “Wilderness Wednesday” we headed east of our new house to the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Washougal. When we arrived there were two school buses in the parking lot bringing local school kids to the refuge on a field trip. It was great to see so many kids out in nature. The Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge is is comprised of 1,049 acres of wetlands, woodlands, and field that border the Columbia River. The diversity of habitats makes it a great place to view a variety of birds.

We didn’t have to make our way very far down the refuge trail before we started seeing birds. From song birds to water birds our three hour visit at the refuge was packed with bird sightings. In total we ended up viewing 15 species of birds, four of which were new species for our Family Big Year. On our way down the path towards the Columbia River we were most excited to spot three Hooded Mergansers. The coloring of the male is really something!

However, our trip back from the Columbia River to our car was even more exciting as we passed by a small section of woodlands and heard an owl hooting. We stopped to listen and used our best owl imitation to hoot back. The owl responded and we called back and forth for several minutes before spotting the owl tucked up close to a tree trunk. It took a while before we got all five of us to clearly see the owl and just as we were able to leave a second owl swooped down and perched on a lower branch giving us an amazing view. We were able to snap some great shots of what we can now tell was a Great Horned Owl (although it looked really wet). Then both of the owls flew off over the water to a second patch of woodland. It was really an amazing sight!

When we finally made it back to the car we were exhausted. Even though we had only walked about 2 1/2 miles we had worked hard looking, listening, and observing new bird species. It turned out to be a very successful Wilderness Wednesday and we can’t wait for the next one.


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.

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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.

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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 🙂

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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!

To Market, To Market Day


If you could design and sell a product, what would it be? This is the very question the Younger Fives pondered this week to get ready for Market Day, a wonderful get-together organized by the Star Valley Home Educators. In order to participate, each Five needed to make a product that could be sold for $1 or $2 (fake money), create a sign explaining the product and price, and prepare a few words to introduce the product to the other participating kids.



High Five had his heart set on making chocolate cupcakes, so he and Five Spice worked out a recipe that avoided ingredients he is allergic to, dairy and eggs. His Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes turned out great; the hardest part was waiting until Market Day to try them out.


Five Ball wanted to make his own silly putty, so we found an easy-to-use recipe that called for only glue, borax, and optional food coloring. All the kids were amazed to see the glue thicken into “Party Putty” (Five Ball’s name for his product), and this gave us a chance later on to look at the underlying science through a Ted-Ed video on polymers.




Five of Hearts took a craftier approach and found inspiration from an Easter Pencil Toppers craft to make her Spring Pencil Toppers. In no time at all packages of colored pipe cleaners transformed into ducks, carrots, rabbits, and butterflies. The final touch was a colored eraser top, and her pencils were ready for sale.






All in all, Market Day was a huge success. It was quite impressive to see dozens of other homeschooling families come together from all across Star Valley, and all the participants did a great job promoting and selling their products. Of course, selling was only half the fun, and the kids all took turns getting to buy the products the other kids made. From kettle corn and lollipops to face painting and homemade lip balm, the variety of products and services was almost overwhelming. We couldn’t have been happier to return home with some new toys and, best of all, having made some new friends.

Fives’ Favorites for Learning About Venice


Now that our memorable two days in Venice are complete, we wanted to share some of the resources we found useful in preparing for our visit.

Nothing helps you appreciate amazing architecture like trying to build it yourself. After brushing up on the sights we would see in Venice, we took out the Legos and set to work on gondolas, cathedrals, and bridges. In the week leading up to our trip, Five of Heart’s take on the Rialto Bridge (see pictures) served as a wonderful daily reminder of our upcoming adventure.

Thief LordThe Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
This exciting tale of runaway children living in the city traverses famous landmarks and lesser-known places alike. It gave us both a good sense of the city’s geography as well as a novel way to see Venice through the eyes of characters who reside there.

Venice Backstage: How Does Venice Work?
This video is part of a great web site created by the Venice public works department. In addition to videos, there are high-quality PDFs that go into more detail about the behind-the-scenes infrastructure that makes Venice livable for its inhabitants. Ever wondered how Venetians built heavy granite cathedrals atop soft, gooey mud? Or how they got fresh water in the middle of a salty lagoon? Venice Backstage is the place to find these answers and more.

Magic Tree HouseMagic Tree House #33: Carnival at Candlelight by Mary Pope Osborne
Jack and Annie’s adventure at Venice’s Carnivale gave us a wonderful walk-through of what we would see in and around Saint Mark’s Square. From the Bridge of Sighs to winged lions that actually fly, this Magic Tree House story really makes the sights and sounds of Venice come alive (literally). There were dozens of things we recognized in person because we had first experienced them in this book.

Crash Course: Venice and the Ottoman Empire: Crash Course World History #19
As always, John Green gives an entertaining whirlwind account of world history, and this episode does a nice job explaining Venice’s rise to power, its abundance of marble, and why a saint’s remains were transported in a barrel of pork. If we ever follow through with our Venice t-shirt idea (the phrase “Working like a Doge” with an accompanying Doge-y picture), John Greene will definitely get a complementary shirt in honor of his tireless service to the realm of knowledge.

Fives’ Favorite Resources to Learn About Climate Change

Climate change has never been far from our minds as we travel. For one, we have experienced its effects first-hand (seeing shrinking glaciers in Glacier National Park and driving through the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on our way to Washington D.C.). Our homeschool studies have also helped us understand the various consequences of climate change, including how melting sea ice is endangering polar bears and other creatures.

With the People’s Climate March happening this Sunday in New York City and around the world (in anticipation of next week’s UN Climate Summit), we’ve decided to focus our homeschool for the coming days on climate change and its impacts. While we will not be able to make it to any of the marches, we are planning to watch the NYC rally live on Sunday. Now is the perfect time to learn more about climate change and how our actions at this very moment will accelerate or lessen its impact. We have found the following resources to be informative and engaging for all ages.


Climate Change 101 with Bill Nye
We are huge Bill Nye the Science Guy fans, and his shows (click here for a list of topics) make learning about science a riot. While the following video is not part of the series, he does an excellent job breaking down the science of climate change in under 5 minutes.


Climate Kids: NASA’s Eyes on the Earth

Nasa Climate

NASA has put together a great assortment of animations and games to teach the fundamentals of climate and climate change. It is conveniently organized by topic or by type of content (video, animation, game, etc.).


Showtime’s Years of Living Dangerously
This 9-part documentary series does an amazing job of making the complexities and challenges of climate change come alive through an impressive cast. The first episode is available for free, and it changed the way we look at the palm oil we find in countless food products (a huge cause of deforestation in Indonesia) and at the conflict in Syria (fueled in part by chronic drought). The entire series is now available to stream online at Amazon and iTunes.


Surging Seas


This interactive map program shows the impact of rising sea levels on coastal locations in the United States. Based on the increasing reach of high tides, the program allows you to experiment with various scenarios and see which areas end up underwater (shown in blue). You can search places by state, city, or zip code.


Crash Course World History and Ecology
The Crash Course video series gives a great introduction to both the historical and ecological dimensions of climate change. The first video lays out the social upheaval caused by the Little Ice Age in the 17th century, while the second video looks at climate change through the lens of ecology.