Handcrafting High School: Year 1, Month 9

Handcrafting High School: Year 1, Month 9

We school year round with lots of breaks. That doesn’t matter to a planner like me though. Every year I have a start date and an end date.  The year-end date for this year was the day we picked Sean up from Stanford. Our life was a whirlwind during the time leading up to that. Talk about eclectic! And academic! And we always keep it secular! Science is not a small part of our life!

Planning for next year

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This is a photo the kids took of me. I fell asleep while planning for next year. 🙂 (FYI, the brace is for my carpel tunnel, which is better now.)

The previous month I had Sean work on some short nonfiction essays. As he was working on these I realized the structuring of his ideas was chaotic. What he had to say was good, but often it felt like he had dumped all of his ideas on a plate in a way that reminded me of cooked spaghetti noodles. This is something we will focus on next year. One of the most important things I do during the last scheduled month of our school year is assess where Sean is in the core subjects, and what specific things he needs to work on the following year. From this standpoint my scheduling makes sense. Maybe I should think of it as an assessment period instead of an endpoint. Especially since I change, tweak, and update the plan regularly.

Assessment is an important part of the teaching and learning process. It’s gotten a bad name in recent years because of the testing culture at traditional schools, but it is critical to evaluate someone’s progress when you are teaching them, especially if you are an eclectic, academic homeschooler. You can trust your child is at grade level if you use a good, solid textbook or course that is at grade level, but you’re still going to need to assess them to make sure they have learned the material. We like to mix it up as you know if you’ve been reading about our handcrafted education this year. Some of Sean’s best and most meaningful work is done without any outside guidance. The problem with evaluating that work is there is nowhere for me to go to get a feel for where Sean’s work is as far as “grade” level.

Evaluating Sean’s progress isn’t as difficult as it could be, because I’m not holding Sean to a standard designed by someone who does not know him. I let the evaluation and the plan for next year reflect Sean’s academic strengths and weaknesses. I find challenging material for him in those areas where he is strong and I am thoughtful and careful when choosing material for the areas where he struggles.

The most intense planning is for subjects I think people should just know. In eighth and ninth grade it was computer programming. In tenth grade it will be American government and politics. The longer I homeschool the more comfortable I am when I design a course that is most likely different from any other student is studying. I no longer worry if colleges will like the courses. It just isn’t about colleges’ approval for us. I am guided instead by what I consider essential knowledge in today’s world. These courses often include knowledge of topics where I think high schools are dropping the ball by not teaching them in a meaningful way. The low-level to non-existent computer programming skills being taught is one example. Another example is that kids are getting out of high school, at an age when they can vote, without an understanding of key issues in the political science of today. Issues being decided that, because of the difference in age, will affect them much more than the people deciding them. Because these are unique classes they take a lot of planning, and it is important to me that they be academic in addition to being enriching, which takes even more planning. If possible I weave necessary skill-building lessons into these areas, which takes even more planning.

May 1 to May 26, 2015


We had three chapters of algebra to get through to be finished for the year. Math was a big part of this month. Algebra this year has been very interesting. My grandmother said to me once, “In our family math is either so easy you can work through it as easily as you can fall into a pool or you have to work at it.” Until this year Sean had to work at it. Something clicked this year. Math is still his least favorite subject, but he now thinks it is his easiest. If you think I am lucky because of this, I would agree with you, but you have no idea how much drama and angst there has been about math over the years.

Language Arts

Early this month Sean said to me, “I would like to write an article about programs teaching computer coding to help others who want their kids to learn to code. I have been so fortunate with the programs you have found for me, I want to give something back,” How to Get Started with Coding, Sean Lee. Sometimes there are glimmers of the adult he’s going to be, and then there’s the rest of the time. 😉

The rest of the writing for the month focused on politics, Spain, and the volunteer trip we would be taking in August on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Because Sean needed to work on structuring, I sent him a nonfiction article daily. I had him start his day reading this article. I would discuss the topic of the article with him, and the structuring the author used for the article.

I like to use other people’s writing when discussing Sean’s writing. We do not use these writings for copy work however. Sean has never enjoyed copy work. I am not a fan of it either. We both consider copy work drudgery. I understand that you can learn techniques from copying the work of others. Sean and I choose to learn those techniques in ways that do not include copy work though. I think of writing as a creative process. To me it is an art form. When you write something that comes from you, it is original. It is unique. It is something you created from your mind. I think creating your own original work is meaningful and special. I come from a family of visual artists and designers. I am the only member of my family who uses words to create their art. I am terrible at creating visual art. I do like to design things though. I want Sean to experience the beauty others use with the artistry of their words. I look for him to use some of the techniques he observes while he crafts his own writing instead of by copying those techniques directly.

Other writing techniques we will focus on in tenth grade are transitions between paragraphs, comma splicing, and concluding paragraphs.

Computer Science

Sean did not finish either of the Coursera courses he started. We ran out of time. Instead he spent his time reviewing the programs in his portfolio so he would be up to speed on these skills when he went to Stanford.


What a wonderful time to be studying astronomy. There are so many new discoveries in this field of science being made every day it is hard to keep up with all of them. We gave it a good try though. Sean took topics out of my book and learned more about them. It was exciting to hear what he was learning. He also used Khan Academy focusing on the math used by astronomers.


This was a busy month of rowing. There were away races and practices were mandatory. Sean has loved this sport. It is much nicer living within biking distance too. Sean hops on his bike, rides to and from, and rows in the middle of his ride.

 Eclectic, Academic World-Schooling: Spain

Raising our child to be a global citizen is one of the things my husband and I think is essential knowledge for today’s world. We mainly use travel to make this happen. I cannot lie and say the travel is just for him. I am a vagabond at heart. I absolutely love to see people’s differences. Travel lets us see how those differences are reflected in different cultures. Because of rowing, our trips this year were during the summer, rowing’s off-season.

Our reason for choosing Spain was more eclectic than academic, not that this affected the things I dragged everyone to. My husband has always wanted to go to Spain, and the exchange rate this summer favored the dollar. Spain was fantastic. It was my husband, Jim’s, favorite place we’ve ever travel to. It was one of Sean’s favorites. My favorite is still India. I love Spain, but there is something about India and the people of India that resonates with me like nowhere else I have ever been. You can read about our trip to Spain here, our stay in Spain and India here, our stay in India.

HSC Campout, June 20 to 26

One of the homeschool groups in California, HSC, has weeklong campouts throughout the year. These are so much fun to attend. One of these campouts started a couple of days before we got home from Spain. Sean begged us to let him go. I was receiving emails from friends asking me to go as well. There was no way I was going to get home from Spain and immediately camp for a week. Sean on the other hand had someone pick him up the day he got back from Spain so he could go camping. I might just be raising a vagabond! Camping with HSC

 The CHN Conference, June 27 to 28

I picked Sean up on the way to a homeschool conference where I was speaking. One of the perks of having a mother who speaks at homeschool conferences is that you get to attend them. I had heard from other homeschoolers over the years that one of the highlights of their year was attending an annual homeschool conference. I did not take that very seriously until we had attended our first. They are a blast for kids and their parents. In addition to being fun to attend, conferences are a great place for homeschoolers to meet other homeschoolers, make friends, and share ideas. Homeschoolers are a spread out bunch. It is rare to find a group of us together at the same time. I think conferences are important for homeschoolers with a homeschool related business or endeavor for networking. I also think the talks geared toward parents are a sort of academic enrichment. Of course you have to find talks on topics that bring something to your homeschool. If you can find those, you can learn new techniques and tips and gain insight into issues affecting your homeschool situation.

This conference I had a big surprise coming. In the middle of April, I started the Facebook Group Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. I did not realize how many people were going to want to talk to me about the group and the content in the article I wrote that led to the formation the group. I brought 50 copies of the article, just in case someone wanted to read it. The copies were gone in a couple of hours. Honestly I was so busy at this conference I barely had time to go to or eat.

The attention I was getting did not go unnoticed by the conference organizers. They asked if I would help them arrange and find speakers for an academic track for their 2016 conference! How exciting! They are looking for talks about Science, Mathematics, Social Studies, Computer Science and other STEM areas, History, and Language Arts. The talks should offer practical information such as curriculum recommendations, online or outside resources (i.e. museums), why it is important to learn certain subjects and where this knowledge can take your child.

If you are interested, please send a Speaker Proposals to: CHN speaker’s proposal.

There will also be a Curriculum Library in the room where the Homeschooling 101 sessions will be held. I am a big fan of looking over materials before buying them. This is a great idea. I will make sure they have a full complement of Pandia Press’ products. If there are materials you would particularly like to look over contact Diane or Martin Forte, CHN curriculum library.

Stanford Pre-Collegiate Computer Simulations and Artificial Intelligence Program, AKA Where Sean Learned to Dance!

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We ate dinner and then said our goodbyes.

Yes you read that correctly! About 4 years into our homeschool journey, my husband remarked that, “One of the major benefits of homeschooling is kids grow up following their own interests. They do not have peer pressure, telling them something is or is not cool.” Sean has grown up being taught if you are interested in something, you should investigate and learn more about it. We believe the places your mind takes you are more than just your idiosyncrasies; they are part of the core essence that makes you unique. My one caveat to this is that Sean has to stick with something he has invested time in even when it gets difficult and complicated, as happened during this school year with computer programming.

I believe Stanford feels the same. When we took Sean to drop him off we attended a welcome dinner. At the dinner one of the speakers said this to the students, “There are no grades, so there should be no fear of failure. Dare to take risks. These three weeks are about exploring ideas and intellectually challenging yourself.” Which is just what Sean did, but not in the way I expected him to do it.

I do not believe language arts and math should be the only important criteria for measuring intelligence, as is often the case in schools today. For that reason Sean has not been raised to only value them. Many years ago I read about the theory of multiple intelligences, The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Wikipedia. I have a degree in evolutionary biology, and from the standpoint of evolution and natural selection this theory makes sense. From the standpoint of both a parent and an educator, this theory is observable. Sean has been raised with the understanding that bodily kinesthetic is a type of intelligence and should be treated and valued as such, which is probably why he did not think it would be an issue with his parents when he spent more time at Stanford learning to dance than he did working on computer programming. He was right too. Sean had never, and I mean never, ever! including dancing at teen dances, shown any interest in dancing, despite my love of dancing. I do so love to dance. Nothing structured, but when the music and mood strike, I can dance all night.

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Sean had not been at Stanford long when he sent me this photo! I spent hours after that researching for information about possible links between neck injuries and break dancing. In addition to break dancing, Sean learned to love choreography and hip hop. His favorite dance group is The Kinjaz.

Sean had only been at Stanford a couple of days when he texted me telling me he had a new passion, dance. I was beyond surprised, and began peppering him with worried questions asking about the program, and whether he was studying computer programming. He was. It was just that he had a new interest, oh and by the way, he wasn’t going to do crew in the coming year, and I had to find hip hop dance lessons for him. LOL, Jim and I had a harder time digesting that then we did about him not focusing the bulk of his learning at Stanford on computer programming. It would not be until sometime in October that we got over him wanting to dance instead of row. He definitely dared to take a risk, did not fear failure, explored new ideas, and intellectually and physically challenged himself! I was very proud of him! That did not keep me from joking, though, that I sent Sean to Stanford to learn computer programming and he learned to dance instead. I hope Sean never stops dancing to his own drummer!

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Sean had a fantastic time at Stanford. This photo was taken on the drive home. That is Sean with his beloved pug! I think he missed her most of all.

Check out last months post from handcrafting high school here.

Sitges, Spain, the Antipope of Peniscola

Sitges, Spain, the Antipope of Peniscola

Driving through Peniscola
Driving through Peniscola

The present castle in Peniscola was built by the Knights Templar from 1294 to 1307. It looks like a prime piece of real estate that would be easy to defend. From 1415 to 1423 it was home of the antipope Benedict XIII. Wait…antipope? What is an antipope?

An antipope (Latin: antipapa) is a person who, in opposition to the one who is generally seen as the legitimately elected Pope, makes a significantly accepted competing claim to be the Pope,[1]the Bishop of Rome and leader of the Roman Catholic Church. At times between the 3rd and mid-15th century, antipopes were supported by a fairly significant faction of religious cardinals and secular kings and kingdoms. Persons who claim to be pope, but have few followers, such as the modern sedevacantist antipopes, are not classified with the historical antipopes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antipope#List_of_historical_antipopes

Between 1378 and 1417 there was the Western Schism in the Roman Catholic Church. During the Western Schism there were several men claiming to be Pope at the same time. The Schism was not caused by theological differences. It was about power. Each of these men was backed by a group of supporters who wanted the power and money that came with the papacy. (FYI there is also an East-West Schism which refers to the break between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.)

How does all this relate to Pensicola? In 1398, Benedict XIII was abandoned by most of his supporters as the Catholic Church worked to end the Western Schism and unite the various factions so that they all recognized the same man as Pope. Benedict refused to give up his title as Pope and had to seek refuge in Peniscola where he lived for the rest of his life. This part of Spain was then in what was called the Crown of Aragon. Benedict claimed to be Pope in opposition to the legitimately elected Pope and had enough members of the clergy backing him, so he is considered an antipope.

The view from the hill in Peniscola
The view from the hill in Peniscola

When I first started reading about Benedict XIII, I found the story intriguing. The more I learned about him, though, the less I liked him. He was an anti-Semite who wrote the Disputation of Tortosa, 1413-1414. Which was a “debate” between Christians and Jews that the Jews were forced to participate in. The purpose was the conversion of Jewish citizens. We had learned about these sorts of debates in Girona, https://blairleeblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/leaving-girona-for-the-abbaye-de-capservy-in-the-south-of-france-june-3-2015/. The result was that most wealthy Jews in the Aragon area did convert to Christianity. Benedict engaged in this to bolster flagging support for his claim to the papacy. He wasn’t successful in this, but the Dispuataion of Tortosa is considered the most prominent Jewish-Christian disputation of the Middle Ages. Pope’s preaching prejudice (even the ones who are just antipopes) should be an oxymoron not just alliterative .

Peniscola is close to Sitges which made today’s drive easy. Earlier in the week, I researched the best beach community near Barcelona to spend 3 days in. Sitges, Spain came up. I am so glad we chose there. We all liked it a lot! Right away!

The view from our apartment window in Sitges, Spain
The view from our apartment window in Sitges, Spain

In Sitges, we stayed in a second floor apartment over a cafe right across the street from a beautiful beach, https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4981447?euid=5fcbbd65-f44e-162e-ee92-0902b9ae0a98. If you think we broke the bank on our accommodations this trip, we did not. These sort of accommodations in Spain are much more reasonable than they are in the U.S.


Half a block up a walking street was Loc Elec Sitges, http://www.locelecsitges.com/en/. When you travel with two active teens, you find yourself looking at the sorts of activities we found at Loc Elec and in Ainsa. Even the most ardent history buff (me) gets burned out on historic sites if you do not break it up from time to time. This trip had more breaks than normal. Maybe that is the trend with Sean and friends for the next few years.

Xavier helped us figure out what we would like best!
Xavier helped us figure out what we would like best!
Sean chose a scooter.
Sean chose a scooter.

Loc Elec Sitges is a family run business. We dealt with Xavier. He was great. He let us try everything we wanted to. The gyropode was all I wanted to try ;-). Everyone else wanted to try more than that. We all settled on what we thought we would like best, and then we were off.

Sophia chose a gyropode, which is similar to a small Segway.
Sophia chose a gyropode, which is similar to a small Segway.
I knew right away what I wanted to ride!
I knew right away what I wanted to ride!

We rode up and down the boardwalk for a couple of hours. It was a great introduction to the town of Sitges. Sophia and I stopped occasionally and shopped from stands we rode past.

The gyropode I rented spoke Chinese. I thought Xavier was kidding when he told me this, but he wasn’t. For a short time I knew how to say, “Slow down, you are exceeding the suggested speed,” (or something close to that) in Chinese. If I ever go to China let’s hope I don’t need to know that phrase!

The skateboard goes about 20 km per hour!
The skateboard goes about 20 km per hour!
Jim chose an electric skateboard. The power comes from a lithium battery. He is holding the variable speed controller for in his hand.
Jim chose an electric skateboard. The power comes from a lithium battery. He is holding the variable speed controller in his hand.


We had so much fun!

We had so much fun!

Sophia and I were even doing wheelies by the end.
Sophia and I were even doing wheelies by the end.
She could really sing. We all stopped to listen!
She could really sing. We all stopped to listen!


Fun sites at the beach! This is exactly what we wanted for these three days after being on the road since May 27, 2015
Fun sights and people watching at the beach! This is exactly what we wanted for these three days after being on the road since May 27, 2015
Jim tried something new.
Jim tried something new.
Xavier came out to show him how.
Xavier came out to show him how.
It wasn't as easy as it looked. Only Sean would master this.
It wasn’t as easy as it looked. In our group only Sean would master this.
While Jim tried the electric monocycle, Sean did wheelies.
While Jim tried the electric monocycle, Sean did wheelies.

Somehow Sean managed to turn my gyropode off. By the time I figured out how to turn it back on, I changed it from Chinese to English. It was more fun to ride when I didn’t know it was telling me to slow down 😉

Check out the previous post from Spain here.




There Were Mammooths in Andalusia

A Science Lab in Your Home, Blair Lee, Saber Tooth, Orce Spain

There Were Mammooths in Andalusia

Sean woke me up early. “Mom, I have broken out in a bad rash, or bites, or something all over!” Well, that will get a mother up and going! We could not figure it out. No one else had any bumps. Could it be that Sean was allergic to the detergent used when we washed clothes, or maybe it was the 30 to 40 nispero (fruits from the tree in the backyard) he ate over the course of 1&1/2 days? We still are not sure. In two itchy, scratchy days they were gone. It did get us going earlier than expected though.

The night before we finally planned the last bit of our trip. We would spend 1 night getting there, then stay in Sitges for three days. Sitges is a small beach community just south of Barcelona and north of Tarragona. The last night we would stay at an airport hotel in Barcelona. Today we would drive to Orce, Spain and sleep where the wind took us as long as it was in the direction of Sitges.

You might think the pronunciation of Orce is ors, but it is orth, with the th drawn out. Early in our trip. Jim noticed it sounded as if people were saying grathious instead of gracious. At first he thought it was a lisp. He quickly realized the entire population of Spain most likely did not have a lisp. When he asked about it, it was explained to him that the c is often (but not always) pronounced as th.


When I heard there were mammoth fossils being excavated in the Granada area, I Googled it right away. Not only have they found mammoth fossils, but they found the remains of humans dated to over a million years old. This sort of detour is why we prefer to travel like we do. It does mean that sometimes we cannot get the tickets to a palace we would otherwise visit, but it also means we have the flexibility to take an unplanned detour to see fossils.

Traveler’s Tip: If you visit the Orce area between July 6 to September 7, you can visit one of the digs with people working at them. If you read about it here and go, I want photos! I will be super jealous, but I still want to hear about it!


orce where they are finding fossils

We like to travel off the beaten path. Orce, Spain qualifies for this. We were the only 4 people in the entire museum. They unlocked it for us. Gave us some cards explaining what we were looking at, and left us to look. I should start a hashtag #PlacesInSpainWithNobodyThere. Here is what is sad, people should be visiting these places. These places have all been seriously cool.

The scene depicts pre-historic life in Orce. There were species of tiger living in the Iberian Peninsula, but this exact species of tiger wasn’t one found here.

I am including photos from literature given to use while visiting the museum.

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Display case B

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It is now thought that the first people living on the European continent lived in Southern Spain and were from Africa. Looking at the geography this makes sense. Some scientists think people were living in Europe as early as 1.8 million year BCE. It is thought there might have been a land bridge between north Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. The countries of Spain, Portugal, and Andorra make up the Iberian Peninsula.

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When Orce man was discovered there was great excitement in the scientific community. It was then suggested that the fragment was that of an equine species. Tests done since support the scientific theory that the fragment is of human origin. The other evidence that has been excavated in Orce are several human teeth and stones that have been sharpened to make tools. Until I was back in the States I did not appreciate what I was looking at when I looked at the skull fragment. In Orce, I was more excited about the tooth on display. Little did I know that the skull fragment was one of the key pieces of “evidence” creationists use when attempting to discredit the occurrence of evolution. The skull fragment was found at one of the four excavation sites surrounding Orce.Andalusia


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This is a fossilized human tooth. The human lived over a million years ago.
These tools show evidence of having been shaped. It made me think of finding arrowheads in Bridgeport, California.

What the creationists say about Orce man.

Orce man: Found in the southern Spanish town of Orce in 1982, and hailed as the oldest fossilized human remains ever found in Europe. One year later officials admitted the skull fragment was not human but probably came from a 4 month old donkey. Scientists had said the skull belonged to a 17-year-old man who lived 900,000 to 1.6 million years ago, and even had very detail drawings done to represent what he would have looked like. (source: “Skull fragment may not be human”, Knoxville News-Sentinel, 1983) http://www.nwcreation.net/evolutionfraud.html

The statement is misleading and they do not use a solid science reference. it also has not been updated to include the latest evidence using albumin analysis, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02436194#page-1, which isn’t very new, but I thought you would find it interesting.

I had no idea when I chose science as a discipline of study, that I was heading down a path with controversy. I am a secular, academic, homeschooling scientist who writes about evolution, the Big Bang, human causes of climate change, and living on a multi-million year old planet in a multi-billion year old universe, though, so… As you can imagine, I was over the top excited when I realized I saw the oldest human fossils to be discovered on the European continent!!!

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There are 2 floors. The carnivores and human fossils are on the first floor, and the herbivores are on the second floor.


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I love hippos!

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An extinct species of elephant. If you look hard enough you can see it.

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We drove for the night until we were ready to be done. This put us near Peniscola where we found a room for the night. I read about it on my phone and it sounded like a good place to stay. This is where the Spanish tourists hang out. (In droves! It felt like the beach area in California in the summer on steroids!) The people were friendly, the beach lovely, and we could not wait to get out of there the next morning. Imagine a Disney Hotel at max capacity and then add more people!

Sand sculpture in Peniscola
Sand sculpture in Peniscola

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People kept asking if we were British. I asked, and was told that is because Peniscola is not a destination Americans go to. It was eye-opening though, and I am glad we stayed, because now we know the Spanish do vacation. When I said something about the hotel staff not being able to distinguish between a U.S. and British accent Sean made a great point. He asked why someone who barely speaks English would notice the difference. Several people told me I speak Mexican Spanish. Sean pointed out that I couldn’t tell the difference between that and Castillian Spanish.

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After dinner we rode around Peniscola in a pedal cab. Sean and Jim did most of the peddling. Then Sean took over and did it all. Just one of the perks of bringing a fit 15-year-old boy with you! We were laughing so hard. Don’t you love the sound of kids laughing!


Here is a list of the articles I read about the fossils in Orce.

Check out the previous post from Spain here

Mammoth fossils here






The Alhambra in Daylight

The Alhambra in Daylight

When you buy tickets for the Alhambra you have to choose between the morning or afternoon. We chose afternoon because the morning session started at 8 a.m.  We had yet to even be awake once that early in the morning. The problem with that is the temperature. It had been warm in the afternoons all week. Still we were glad we chose the afternoon. We were all enjoying waking late every morning.

Over the past few months in the States there have been many news stories about African refugees trying to come to Europe. We had seen and even bought things from men on the streets since we had been in Spain. Today Sean and Sophia bought a hat and sunglasses from two men who told us they were from Somalia. Over the next few days I asked and was told often by men selling things in the street that they were from Somalia. The men today seemed to be being bossed around by an older red-haired woman who had no teeth. I really hope these men are not working off their passage by hawking cheap trinkets in front of the Alhambra.

Unfortunately, I didn’t decide I wanted to tell you all about this until the Somali expats were walking away. When I was finally done fumbling with my camera they had walked away. You can just see the two walking up the tree-lined lane.

The woman with red hair and green shirt at the bench is the woman who seemed to be their boss. If she is I hope she is at least a good and fair one.

Sophia needed new sunglasses & Sean needed glasses and a new sun hat. “I can wear it camping mom.” (6/20/15: He has it with him on a camping trip he left for on the day we returned.)

It is hard to wrap your head around what it must be like to be an adult trying to feed yourself and possibly your family back home this way. I hope their life is a good one. My heart hurts that this might not be the case. I wish the dreams we all had for ourselves could be realized. (Bleeding heart, tree hugging, liberal type here 😉 in case you hadn’t figured that out yet.)

Our reason for visiting Granada was to see the Alhambra. Many people over the past 2 weeks had told us we could not visit Spain and skip the Alhambra. So we booked 2 nights in Granada. Granada turned out to be worth visiting for much more than the Alhambra. We all really like the vibe of the town, and the house where we are staying is awesome. If you are going to Granada, especially with a family, I recommend it, https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5445326.

Here are a series of photos from inside the Alhambra. A tip I have for you is to buy your tickets 2 to 3 weeks before you need them. By the time I tried to buy the tickets they only had the Generalife tickets available. This was all the kids cared about seeing anyway, and if you have to choose one, this is what you want to see. We had admittance into every area except the Nasrid Palace. When you enter the grounds of the Alhambra you have your choice where to start. It is divided (on the map and with signage) into several areas. We went left, because that is where #1 on the audio is. I rented a handheld audio guide .  I like information on the tour, but no one else cares. They trust me to tell them about the interesting parts 😉  Jim took the photos today, because I was busy holding the guide.

Water was important to life and to the faith of the Moors. In college I learned that Moors were Berbers, and that the term Moor is not synonymous with Muslim, as some people including Jim thought. The written information on the internet is very confusing on this issue. It might have to do with the fact that the Christians conquered the Moors, and therefore wrote the history after that. During the xenophobic time when Christians were using divisive religion tactics to force mass conversions or expulsions with the confiscation of property to increase their numbers, they would have benefited greatly from stereotyping all Moors as also being Muslims, but that is just where my mind wandered as I was processing what we had seen in Girona with the history we were learning at the Alhambra. I do not know how accurate this is, but it is a very interesting list, http://www.blackhistorystudies.com/resources/resources/15-facts-on-the-moors-in-spain/. The material on this list is closer to what I learned in college than much of what is on the Internet, but I do not know much about this time or area of history.


Much of what is seen today has been restored. The French burned the Alhambra when they conquered this area.

Most of the photos here show the Moorish influence in their architecture and design details. The photo above is of the Santa Maria de la Alhambra. A beautiful building that was a mosque, before it was converted into a church.

Below I am standing in front of the Bano de la Mezquita. This type of communal bath was a place to take ablutions before prayer, socialize, and gather.

The roof of the bano.   This shows Charles V conquering his Moorish adversaries.

From the wall surrounding Charles V Palace. Jim says that is a good view of where we are staying.


The Puerta del Vino above is purportedly the oldest structure in the Alhambra.

Since 1556, the neighbours of the Alhambra left at this gate the wine that they drunk and which was not submitted to taxation. This is a possible explanation for the gate’s name, although there is another theory, according to which the name is the result of a mistake. Apparently two words got muddled up: «Bib al-hamra’», meaning Red Gate or Gate to the Alhambra, which would be the original name of the gate, and «Bib al-jamra», meaning Wine Gate. This second theory would then prove that this was the access gate to the higher Alhambra.


Across from the wine gate is more running water.Up the steps with the running water to the next area called the Alcazaba. “The word derives from the Arabic word القصبة (al-qasbah), a walled-fortification in a city,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcazaba. Which is exactly what it looked like. Sean and Sophia ran up to the top, while I caught my breath.

Here is a photo of them at the top. Good thing Sean bought that hat so he was easy to spot.   I still see Sean, where is Sophia?

  Sean waits at the tunnel from the staircase to the top of the tower of the Alcazaba.   The top of this tower has a great view looking back across the Alhambra, because it is at the far west end.

Sean trying to give me a heart attack! “Mom, I bet I could scale down from here.” “If you do that Sean, I will kill you myself!”
  AlhambraThis is the view from the other side of the tower. You can see why they built a watch tower here.  AlhambraWe strolled from there through the gardens to what is called Generalife.    Alhambra

There were several of these towers like the one above along the way. They look like watch towers, but they were not. They were living quarters, oratories, and other structures. The audio guide quoted often from the text The Alhambra written in 1832 by Washington Irving. I really wish I had read it before visiting. Here is a link for you to a free copy of the book, http://pinkmonkey.com/dl/library1/irvng001.pdf. Irving visited many of these outer buildings before the interiors were stripped, and he describes them in his text. Alhambra  Alhambra  AlhambraGeneralife is at the north-east side of the Alhambra complex. The photo below shows the view looking west and a bit north. Alhambra  

AlhambraGeneralife has water everywhere. Beautiful flowers and scents and water are a with you in most areas of the Alhambra, all except Alcazaba.  AlhambraThis view looks out on the White Church where we were last night and the Albaicin. (There are several ways to spell this. I have chosen the spelling we saw in Grenada.)The Albaicin, the area we are staying in, has been inhabited since pre-Roman times. Today this area reflects the Moorish influence over a series of centuries, not Roman or Christian. The palace of the Alhambra was completed in the 14th century by a Moorish ruler of that time, Yusuf I and his son Mohammed V. The Catholic Monarch Charles V also has a palace on the grounds built in 1526. That was the building we almost got locked in the night before. The 1500’s were a tumultuous time as the Moors and Catholics fought for who was going to rule in southern Spain. After winning a series of battles, Charles V built his palace as a symbol that a new power was in charge and it was a Catholic one. Charles V increased taxes to build the Palace which after a while led to an uprising. (Jim and I both read Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen this trip. It made us more reflective and thoughtful about the power the people actually have if they act as a collective. http://www.amazon.com/Words-Will-Break-Cement-Passion/dp/1594632197).

The walls were built in the days when those kept people out!Alhambra  Alhambra

This is an ambulance we saw at the Alhambra. This gives a great idea of how small and tight the streets are in historic medieval areas of Europe.


We were ready to get back. The kids wanted to swim and Sean and Sophia both wanted to eat more of these!  

Check out the previous post from Spain here.

Granada Spain Must Have some Homeschoolers In It

Granada Spain Must Have some Homeschoolers In It

The kids were ready to get to Granada. The house we were staying at there had a pool, and they wanted to swim in it. It had been warm and sunny for the past three days, definitely swimming weather.


Jim spotted this on the way there. I wonder if asparagus is transported like this everywhere? Spain has the best produce. The Spanish are proud of this too. Organic food and food that has not been genetically modified are the norm not the exception. When they get rid of weeds from between the cracks of sidewalks they use weed-whackers not Round-up. The Spanish seem to have made a conscious decision not to poison the Earth and its inhabitants. It changes the dynamic in a very positive way when consumers are put before big corporations on food issues. It is lucky for us we have been staying in some Airbnb properties so I observed this as we have been shopping in the small markets here. 

The house we rented for 2 nights is in the Albaicin district in Granada is in the old historic Moorish area. As you will see many of the homes in the area and the streets still show the historic influence. The kids and I were dropped off with Samar, the home owner and walked to the house while Jim found a place to park where the lanes were wide enough to fit our rental car.

The entire Albaicin neighborhood was declared a world heritage site in 1984. One of the main tourist attractions in Granada is walking in this area. The cobbled streets, architecture, and small market squares transport you back in time. Here is a link to a good Wikipedia article about this area, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albayz%C3%ADn
Yeah! The pool! 

There is also a nispero tree.

The kitchen! We went right out to buy food to make dinner at the house.

Mammooth beer, we asked? We were told mammoth bones had been excavated from the surrounding mountain range, The Sierra Nevada Mountains. I wonder where our Sierra Nevada Mountains got their name?

When we were grocery shopping in the Alabicin area, Sophia turned to me and said, “We have found the hippie district of Spain. I bet there are homeschoolers here.” We Googled it, and there are.

You are a vegan and a vegetarian? Sophia and I heard many times on this trip. Spain is a meat eating, meat loving country, but it has a core of people who are passionate about not eating meat. These people loved the Americans who were vacationing in Spain and not eating meat. When the ecological food store owner (We saw this term on many store fronts. We think this is what Spain calls their organic stores.) learned about our eating habits, she gave Sophia a milk chocolate bar for a present and me candies that were vegan, figs stuffed with hazelnuts dipped in vegan chocolate. They were really good!

The furnishings in the house we stayed at were lovely. This house really was a find. It is in a lovely quiet area. It has everything you could want, and it is beautifully appointed.

Samar told us we should walk up the hill to the white church to see the Alhambra at sunset. We stopped and took photos of graffiti along the way. Sean has always loved graffiti and likes to check out any he sees and likes. Hmmm, why is the vegan taking the picture, not in it?

This entire area from Seville east has cave houses like the one below


The view of the Alhambra from the white church on the hill.

Do you see The Alhambra at our shoulders? The photo below is of some guys we met and started talking to at the top.

On the walk down the hill, we took a different path.

This is the opening to a water well, Aljibe as they are called in Spanish. There are over 25 Aljibe in the Albaicin district. Here is a link to a walking tour through the area using the water wells as points of interest, http://www.piccavey.com/aljibes-granada/. We preferred to get lost in the Albaicin and find our way against following a set path. Getting lost was not a real problem, because once I had eaten at our house and bought food at a market, I could always find my way to either of these locations. It is a very strange trait. I have a terrible sense of direction, that is, unless I have ever eaten somewhere. Any place I have eaten or bought food at I can always find my way to again.

At 11:30 at night with the kids yawning, I said, “Let’s go check the Alhambra out.” We came very close to getting locked in. Wouldn’t that be cool (and uncool at the same time ;-). We just walked in. It is so much more relaxed than U.S.

The kids didn’t appreciate it it, but they will. Just give them a decade!

Check out the previous Spain post here.

Seeing Seville on an Electric Bike and Flamencoa

Seeing Seville on an Electric Bike and Flamencoa

The Flying Dutchmen told us what a blast they had riding around Seville on a Segway. We called every Segway rental company we could find on the Internet and they were all booked. I looked on TripAdvisor to make sure we had not missed any Segway companies and what came up as the number one outdoor activity in Seville was the Electric Bicycle not the Segway. I called Elecmove Electric Bikes (If you are wondering, I use TripAdvisor a lot when we travel.) and they were able to fit us in. We even got the #1 rated English speaking guide, Marie! We had a blast. It was a great way to see the city and we learned a lot about the history of Seville. One of the things I really liked was that it didn’t make any difference that our fitness levels varied. There are 3 settings on the bike and you can choose how hard you want to work with the setting. The other perk of seeing Seville by bike is that there are bike paths throughout the city. The electric bikes have access to these. http://www.elecmove.com/en/ We walked through the lovely, old, cobbled streets of the historic district. It is much easier to walk or ride a bike through these streets than to drive a car through them. Jim did a wonderful job of driving through them for 3 weeks. You really have to pay attention.  electric bikeselectric bikeselectric bikesThis is Marie our guide talking to Jim. We learned so much from her! electric bikesThe bikes are easier than I thought they would be. There are three speeds. You choose the one you want (or none at all) depending on how hard you want to work. There is a sensor that kicks in and helps when you start to peddle.  electric bikesTo put it mildly, I am not very into riding bikes. Do not ask me why, I just am not. I was definitely the weakest rider of the bunch. Even I had a great time.  The photo above is of the Caliph’s Castle. It is over 1000 years old. Fernando the Catholic King took Seville from the Caliph in 1248. Earthquake 1356 damaged the Caliph’s Castle and the cathedral below. electric bikeselectric bikesBecause of the Earthquake the Cathedral needed to be repaired. When it was finished in 1403 it was the world’s largest cathedral. The Pope didn’t like this so he added onto the cathedral in Rome. Then the British built St James’ Cathedral. So the Pope added on to the cathedral in Rome yet again, so that once again the cathedral in Rome would be the largest. The Pope was tired at this point of living in a dust filled place that was always under construction so he made an edict that you need the Pope’s approval to build or renovate a cathedral. In all the years since then a project to make a larger cathedral than the one in Rome has never been approved. electric bikesThe steel structure at the top of the bell tower below was once tethered in place. The moorings came loose and then it became a weather vane. This was a problem as it would sometimes spin wildly and frighten people that it was going to fall when the surrounding buildings were shorter. Now that it is surrounded by taller buildings it is no longer a problem as this square does not get as much wind. electric bikesThere were many exports from the new world pouring into Seville. Isabella made Seville the site where all goods from the new world first came to. The tobacco factory processed the tobacco being imported in. A black market started as people began growing tobacco plants in their back yard. The king and queen outlawed this and a factory was built. The queen and king were losing too much tax revenue. Women were chosen to work in the factory because it was thought they were more delicate in handling the leaves. The women began to steal tobacco. One woman in particular, named Carmine, started stealing tobacco. A book and opera were written her.  electric bikesThis is the Plaza de Espana. It is beautiful. The Naboo scene in Star Wars is filmed there,   https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mVQyW1n5ECY.
electric bikesThe building above is called the Bathroom of ’29. It was the Guatemalan embassy built for the World Expo. People mistakenly thought it was a bathroom and used it as such. It has been abandoned since then.

This is Maria Luisa’s summer residence. Built by the queen for her sister.  The tower above was built by the Moors as a watch tower. The Catholics used it as the Gold Tower. This is where they would collect gold brought from the new world.  This is the gypsy quarter. The gypsies practiced magic which frightened non-gypsies so they were put in their own quarter. It is thought that it is a combination of Moorish and gypsy culture that resulted in the style of dance called flamenco. The photos below are from the show we saw at the Flamenco Museum.  

Weakest rider? Yes. Coolest shoes? I think my Wonder Woman high tops speak for themselves!

Ready and waiting for flamenco. It was a great show. There was dancing, singing, and guitar playing. http://www.flamencotickets.com/museo-del-baile-flamenco-seville Look how the paint has been chipped off the floor.These two danced together.And each danced a solo. We were in the front row, a matter of going early to get your seats. It was something to watch, and the scarf and skirt brushed over our faces a few times. In between the dancers, there would be a guitar or singing solo.The Chinese wedding fad. At the a plaza de Espana, there was a wedding photo shoot taking place. Marie told us this is the new fad in China. The couple will marry 1 or 2 months before, then they will travel all over having wedding photos taken of themselves. The groom of this duo looked to be very into it. The bride looked over it. The photographers were yawning. What a strange trend.

Check out our previous post from Spain here.

Our Man of La Menthe, Seville, and the Flying Dutchmen


Our Man of La Menthe, Seville, and the Flying Dutchmen

We woke up in the hostel after a very good night’s sleep. The woman we met last night was at the front desk. She was wonderfully friendly. She did not speak English, so it was all very basic Spanish from me as she explained that her son was working in London. I believe he is head of security at a clinic there. He loves London. She is very proud of him but thinks it is too bad so many young people are leaving Spain to find better jobs elsewhere. This was a refrain we heard several times on our trip.  We left Hostal M. Vares with gifts. If you ever need a place to stay in Valmojado, the rooms are super clean and the owners are warm and charming! The owner gave us a lighter, pen, and a Barcelona soccer team bottle opener. Many times on this trip people insisted on giving us gifts. We have also received a satchel, wine, champagne, bracelets, necklace, bread, olive oil, a chocolate bar, chocolate covered hazelnuts, and we think we must be missing some things.  We were driving for a while when I saw a castle on a hill I wanted to stop to see.   Look where it is! “What is so cool about La Mancha?” Everyone else wanted to know. “You know the Man of La Mancha… No? What about Don Quixote? A hole in your education!” So I pulled Cliff Notes up on my iPad and read the e-notes version as we drove through the countryside of Castille and Toledo, http://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/d/don-quixote/book-summary. The Man of La Mancha was a musical based on the story Don Quixote, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_of_La_Mancha.

But before that… There was a castle to climb around the outside of. La Menthe  Seville   It was a hot day and there were very few people about in town. I did find one man who we sort of talked to. After a couple of minutes I asked if we could take a photo with him. He invited us into his courtyard to show us his canaries and gave us some sprigs of mint.  SevilleThe Man of La Menthe

We drove from there to Seville. In Seville we were staying at an old hotel in the historic district. Getting there was an adventure. The historic district of Seville has tight, winding streets. It was time to pull the side mirrors in again.

I noticed men at the hotel with the words “The Flying Dutchmen” on their shirts. Who are The Flying Dutchmen? I asked the person at the front desk. He didn’t know, so I stopped the next person I saw with a Flying Dutchmen t-shirt and asked. The Flying Dutchmen is the name of a company that makes documentary films and commercials using drones to film, http://www.theflyingdutchmen.com. We sat in the courtyard in the evening talking to the group. They are in Spain filming a documentary for an insurance company. We also met Mark, the subject of the documentary. All of them are from the Netherlands. Mark owns a company that buys fruit in Spain, mostly berries, freezes them and ships them to the Netherlands to sell as frozen fruit. The insurance for something like this is a big deal. The insurance company wants the documentary for promotion. We saw some of the raw footage of Seville they had filmed in the morning. I was impressed when I saw the quality of film they captured with their drone. I cannot wait to see the finished product. It was interesting to sit and discuss their creative process. I love to hear about the creative process of others! I sat next to Harmen Commandeur, @DeManMetHoed. one of the owners and the art director. He showed me a finished documentary they made and explained some of the techniques he uses when he edits a documentary. It was inspiring to hear about his path to where he is now. His path sounds similar to the one Sean is on. Harmen is an artistic person who uses the computer, graphic design, and his own creative vision to make his form of art. If we do spend a couple of months in Norway next summer (as we are thinking we will) we will have to get over to the Netherlands and look The Flying Dutchmen up! Here is a photo of The Flying Dutchmen taken with a drone. Sevillehttps://vimeo.com/theflyingdutchmen, I prefer the film on Vimeo but here is one from YouTube, https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCmjBi8ptC0AX0_aTsJzp0ig

After we talked to them we went to Habanita to eat. We had such a great dinner we went back again the next night.  SevilleSeville 

SevilleThis beautiful church was one block from the hotel. SevilleWe stayed at the Hotel Casa Imperial, http://www.casaimperial.com. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g187443-d547935-Reviews-Hotel_Casa_Imperial-Seville_Province_of_Seville_Andalucia.html.

We prefer old historic hotel in the historic district. Seville  Seville

Check out our previous Spain post here.

Canyoning in Spain before Driving South


Canyoning in Spain before Driving South

With 10 days left in Spain, the vagabonds hit the road again. We decided to head south to see Seville and Granada for 4 days total with one day on the road to Seville. The last 5 days of the trip are still unplanned. As usual we had things to do before leaving.

  We had to say good bye to the cat who was waiting outside the door to our apartment in the hope the kids bought 2 cans of tuna.

Then we had to go canyoning.
  That is our guide Leo. He set us up with gear which we put in the pack and carried to the Jeep-like vehicle that Leo transported us in. When Leo met Sophia, he said, “Ay, Sophia, Sophia.” With a slight difference in the normal pronunciation than we use in the States, it is almost a caress of her name. This has been happening often with Sophia’s name. Sean’s and my name are not as well liked or well pronounced. It turns out the queen of the retired King Juan Carlos, is named Sophia and she was well liked. Juan Carlos recently gave up the throne to his son because of some legal controversy involving his daughter’s business dealings.

I started to get in the back, and Leo told me to ride in the front because my Spanish was the best of the group. Oh yes! It pays to have studied hard in high school!  


At about roof height for a Jeep from the road, is where floodwaters reached in 1977 when it rained steadily for 8 to 10 days. Check out how far below the road the water is on the day we canyoned.

These are photos from the road on the way to where we would canyon.

To my knowledge, I had never heard of canyoning before the day we walked into Aventura Raid Sarratillo office in Ainsa. Canyoning entails hiking, swimming, jumping, rappelling, diving, and floating. There were several options available as to canyons Leo could take us down. The canyon we were taken down took about 2 hours to go down. We traveled about 1 km an hour. They chose this canyon for us because it was one of the most beautiful, and there were so many options at each spot. You could choose from a high jump, medium jump, low jump, or to climb down. You could even do a back flip (Sean) if you wanted. Did I forget to mention we climbed under a couple of waterfalls, through little keyhole slots with water flowing through them, and through a small cave. Sophia and I did not rappel down btw. We had Leo lower us on the rope. It looked so far down! I really am not a fan of heights. It was no big deal though. Leo was a fantastic guide. Javier told us he was sending us with someone special and he was right! Poor Leo, he probably would have liked to jump, but if I wanted to climb down, he climbed down with me. Do I sound like the biggest wimp ever, LOL. I wasn’t that bad. It was awesome. Exciting, beautiful, and fun all at the same time!  

The packs we are each carrying have a wetsuit complete with the hood, helmets, water, and a wetsuit jacket in them. We were high in altitude and the water was COLD! (FYI, most European women we have seen on the beaches in Spain do not wear one piece bathing suits. If I lived in Europe I might have to ditch my grandma suit! Here even great grandmas are in bikinis!)

       Canyoning is so much fun!

It takes a while for your hands to get used to the cold water. I kept my hood on longer than anyone else!


When you canyon you jump!






The scenery was beautiful.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rappelling so they can jump.





We walked through waterfalls.





Jim rappels into the unknown. I just couldn’t do it. Leo lowered me down.
In a cave.









Leo was a superb guide. There he is on the left.

When we got back to Ainsa we were hungry. This was a problem because it was siesta time. Everywhere we went, including the South of France, closed up for 2 to 3 hours in the middle of the day. This includes grocery stores or supermercatos as they are called no matter what size they are. Most places stay open much later at night though. It is easier than you think it would be to get used to. Sunday is another story… Just kidding, but Sunday also most stores close up. Again it is just a matter of paying attention, then you start to get used to it.

We found something very basic to eat and drove for one last time to La Cucuirala. Javier and his wife had finished washing our clothes. We needed to pick them up and say goodbye. I told Javier how beautiful the craftmanship of his units are and how comfortable they are too. He told us he built them with some help from a group of men he flew to Spain from Bolivia. He was glad we appreciated his units because when he built them his goal was too make them so comfortable that he would want to stay in them. It really showed! His next project is to build a remote Hobbit House in the woods! (I might have to come back to Spain just to stay there. I mean seriously a Hobbit House!!!! I want to stay in a Hobbit House!!!!!) Here is a link to La Cicuarala, http://www.lacicuarala.com/www.lacicuarala.com/WELCOME.html. Who knows when you stay there maybe the Hobbit House will be finished!

When we left we drove south for hours. Our goal was Seville the next day. Jim is a monster when it comes to driving long distances. He is the only one of us with an international drivers license, but he is a control freak about driving so I just let him do all of it anyway. We were unprepared for what it would be like on a main thoroughfare in Spain designed to get you from point a to point b. In the states every exit would have some amenities, and many of them would have hotels. On these types of highways in Spain, amenities and hotels are few and far between each other. We were south of Madrid at about 11 p.m. (23:00) when we began looking for something. There was nothing for miles. The first place we found at about 23:30 had no rooms. Finally we found a hostel to stay in. We had never stayed in a hostel before. It was pretty great actually. We loved the family who ran it! We rented a girl’s room and a boy’s room. Sophia is much quieter than Jim or Sean. Lucky me.

Check out the previous Spain post here.

The Geology of the Pyrenees and Kayaking in Spain


The Geology of the Pyrenees and Kayaking Spain

We want to go white water kayaking in hard kayaks! At least that is what 2 of us said. The other two did not. That was okay, clothes must be washed when you are on the road for 3 weeks. Sophia and I hung clothes out to dry (Javier’s wife washed them) and the guys had so much fun kayaking. They kayaked from the same place we rafted just not as far down. The second part of the rafting was white water rafting. We were told it was only for more experienced kayakers. The guys had the same guide to Mimo. Mimo told me the day before, he showed up for a rafting trip near his home in Italy many years back, fell in love with it and never went back. He hired on with a rafting company at the end of the float. http://www.sarratillo.com


Jim on white water kayaking:

IMG_1031 IMG_1030

It was difficult to get the hang of it. I flipped and came out of the boat once. When that happens, as a beginner, you hang on to the boat and paddle and work to get to the edge so you can empty the water out, get back in, and do get further down the river. In flat water, it was relatively easy. In rapids, it was more thrilling but a lot harder. It is scary in the rapids, because you are afraid you are going to lose it and flip. I do not believe they would have allowed us to do this in the states without some more practice in flat water first, but that is why we did it here! Our guide certainly earned his money that day.

Sean on white water kayaking:

IMG_1025 IMG_1024 IMG_1023 IMG_1022 IMG_1021


It is the best sport ever. It was so much fun! It is challenging and rewarding. It really gets the adrenaline pumping. It is like you are one with the river. You have a certain amount of control, but the rest of the control is with the river. If it wants to take you somewhere, it does. If you are really good you have some more control, but the river has the main control. I was less nervous when I first started than when I was further along. I flipped twice. After the first flip, I figured out why I was flipping and then I was more confident and did not have to worry about flipping again. I flipped in an easy part getting into an eddy. I didn’t flip in any of the more challenging section. When I did flip the second time I floated a bit down the river to where our guide and instructor had my boat. That was really fun too.

When Jim and Sean got back we all hiked to a swimming hole Javier told us about. “The water comes from rain water not snow melt,” he told us. It was a lot warmer than the water we rafted and kayaked in. We all wore wet suits for those activities. It was sunny though. If we ever went back it would be with water shoes! It was a locals’ secret, and there were plenty of people there. We looked like the only tourists though. That sort of insiders info is one of the perks of staying at someone’s house instead of a hotel.  

We ate and drove back to La Cicuarala. On the way back we stopped at the nearby little hamlet at the top near where Javier’s house is. There was a church I wanted to see closer that I had been looking at as we drove by. Guaso stands on the top of a tall hill/mountain also called Guaso. It is a 15 minute walk from Javier’s or a short drive. The church was built in the 12th century. It is typical to see this mix of small villages/hamlets with antique architecture in the hills as you drive through this area.


Unexpectedly we found this plaque. You might not think it is strange to find a plaque with an English translation in the middle of a remote hill, but it is. Most of the signage outside of big cities and towns does not have signage in English. Actually It was unexpected to find a sign at all. This is not a well traveled path.

Zone 1 
Zone 3

Central zone Spanish Pyrenees
Central zone Spanish Pyrenees

Zone 2

A description of the Pyrenees
A description of the Pyrenees


These are called the Aragonese Pyrenees and Pre-pyrenees. Much of this area is a national park. We even met some park rangers. We saw Eagles flying and a fox near Javier’s. There is much to do in this area. There are water sports, hiking, biking, and fishing. There are also Nordic sports in the winter. When you drive through this area the different geological features are very noticeable. There has obviously been a great deal of uplift as evidenced by layers of rock that are almost vertical. There are also horizontal layers with other layers cut through these. We would learn from a Spanish geologist we met in Seville some days later that this is an area where geology students at universities in Spain come to do their field work. 


The first time I saw an old stair case like this one it was in an ancient Incan settlement at Moray, Peru. http://www.amusingplanet.com/2013/03/the-mysterious-moray-agricultural.html  

We drove a little further to check out the hamlet of La Torrecilla.  


Javier’s family has a cat. It cries when it sees you. Sean and Sophia bought a can of tuna in town to feed the cat. The cat fell in LOVE! with them! 


Time for bed. We have canyoning tomorrow!

Check out our previous post from Spain here.

Leaving Girona for the Abbaye de Capservy, South of France

Abbaye de Capservy

Leaving Girona for the Abbaye de Capservy, South of France

Before we left Girona we had to take one more walk on the wall. Again there was no one on it.





I am sitting on an old fashioned toilet. It would be an interesting feel to bare it all and go to the bathroom like this, LOL! 

Did I remember to post the link to Casa Cundaro? Here it is in case I didn’t. http://www.casacundaro.com/english.html Casa Cundaro is attached to the Historic Hotel. Where we had to have one last superb breakfast.   

Look how narrow the streets of Girona’s old town are! I got out to take this picture of our car.

Before leaving we visited the Jewish museum in Girona. We learned so much there. For instance, I did not realize many Jews converted instead of leaving. If they left they were essentially abandoning their material wealth. They did convert, but they did not always stop practicing their old ways. They also kept their relationships with those who did not convert.   The museum has a large collection of gravestones. When Judaism was outlawed in Spain, the Jewish gravestones were removed. Many of these have since been unearthed as they have restored old buildings in Girona.   

         It was in the face of mass conversions without changes in religious practices that the inquisition took place. The Catholic Church wanted to make it prohibitive to live in Catholic countries if you were a practicing Jew. This did cause most people to become more obedient in practicing the Catholic faith. I have included a series of text panels from the museum with the photos.  



That is a man I wish I could sit and speak with! Asking him so many questions 😉



Thinking of you, my dear friend Michelle! We wish you were here with us!

There are Roman ruins in the museum too.   

 We had one last stop to make. Sophia and I needed a cup of the best tea of the trip.   http://www.teashop.eu/en/tea-shop-girona/

We decided to follow a circuitous path to France by driving to Collioure, France. We chose this route because it was the path of the Jewish diaspora from Girona in 1492. Since most people converted there was not a large number of people who left. It seems like a pattern. The Catholic Church converted the rulers, and the rulers forced people to convert or leave. Americans are most familiar with the treatment of people of the Jewish faith and the decimation or forced conversion of Native Americans. Interesting to me is that the most tolerant people, as a whole, of any country we have visited is the predominantly polytheistic people of India. Don’t you wish you could go back in time and see all the different cultures and people before the Romans conquered so many and before mass religions took hold? 1 month ago there was a threat to the Jewish museum in Girona so they now have guards posted at it permanently.

I LOVE history. I would like to go back to the time of the dinosaurs too! The only problem with that is, I would probably get eaten right away! When you drive through Europe you see castles on hilltops all the time. #AmericansLoveCastles   


We drove to France along a narrow, twisting road. There were grape vines on the hillside and cyclists on the road.  Shortly after passing the border into France, we came to the top of a pass and there was a wine stand with people tasting wine. LOL, that would not fly in the U.S. It was a windy road out of  the Spanish town of Cerbere. When he saw it, Sean said, “That is the most French thing ever!”   

When the Jews fleeing Spain got to Collioure they must have thought it would be wonderful to live in such a beautiful place. A couple of years later the French King told the Jews to convert or leave Collioure, so it was not to be.

We were headed to the Abbaye de Capservy. Our reason for driving to the south of France was to visit the restored castle of Carcasonne. Although we wanted to visit the castle, this time we chose to stay in an old abbey. http://www.abbayedecapservy.com/en/

When we arrived we were greeted by Odile and the 2 dogs in residence. Odile was making a special vegan meal just for us. The dinner consisted of a mound of rice, surrounded with smaller mounds of beans and various vegetable sides. French bread was also served, of course! The dessert was fresh fruit in a lemon agar jelly with elderberry. Days later we were still talking about the lovely abbey, the dinner (it was one of the best of the trip), and the wonderful hospitality of Odile. If you go be sure and have Odile make dinner for you. You will not regret it. You also get Lulu’s delicious wine and Odile’s conversation. Odile has two daughters who are both living in London. We met several people on this trip whose adult children are in London working because of a lack of jobs in their area. One of Odile’s daughters works in a castle as a tour guide. She loves it. While we were at the Abbaye, Odile’s daughter was interviewed on the radio about the castle and its history. I must email Odile and get the name of the castle!

  The Abbaye de Capservy has the main building where we stayed, a smaller house behind, and another house where another couple lives. Across from the Abbaye are fields of grapes.

    Odile, our wonderful host.  I love to look in people’s kitchens.

On the long driveway leading to the Abbaye, Sean put his hand out the window into stinging nettles. The Abbaye has a pool, Sean recovered by going for a swim. Unfortunately he popped the peace donut!   
The kids wanted to taste French wine in France.

Abbaye de Capservy

We stayed in a family room at the top of the Abbaye. The ceilings were short which for us adds to the charm. There were rooms with higher ceilings, but we preferred this one!

Check out my previous posts from the Spain trip here. Check out the Worldschooling section of our blog.

The Dali Museum, The Mediterranean, and Vegan Tapas!

Dali Museum

The Dali Museum, The Mediterranean, and Vegan Tapas!

The town of Figueres, Spain is about a 35 minute drive from Girona. There is a lot of history there, but we only went for the Dali Museum. We did not want to spend the day in Figures, because we also wanted to visit Costa Brava. Costa Brava is what the coastline of northeast Spain is called.

Salvadore Dali is a genius! He worked in almost every medium you can think of. The museum is a bit crowded but not too crowded. When we were standing in line Sean said, “What is this? Aren’t we going to the Dali Lama Museum?” A little prep about Dali might have been good on my part. He loved the museum and is now a big Dali fan! What follows is a series of photos from the Dali museum. It seems to me that the Spanish like eclectic artists. Gaudi, Dali, and Picasso all push the boundaries in so many ways. It really makes you think about their intent when you stand in front of the work of both of these artistic geniuses. http://www.salvador-dali.org/museus/teatre-museu-dali/en_index/                            The Dali Museum is on 4 floors. The top floor features works by artists other than Dali. These 2 paintings are by another artist.  More by Dali are below.  DNA!       Once Sean got over his disappointment that he was not at a museum dedicated to the Dali Lama he loved it. Sophia enjoyed it from the start.  Seriously, if you can think of a medium for art, Dali has probably created something using it!     What a cool ring! Attached to the main museum is the jewelry museum. The guys did not want to go to it, but I did, so they went along. We all loved the jewelry museum.   Jim parked our car across from the museum. The parking space seemed too good to be true. When we went back to our car there was a van parked in front of it and the car was covered in sticky drops. It was probably soda. We think we were not supposed to park where we did. It was better than a parking ticket! We have laughed so hard this trip. I am sure whoever sprayed the soda was upset. The 4 of us just laughed.


We left Figueres and headed to Costa Brava. We wanted to spend half a day on the East Coast of Spain, and get in the Mediterranean. It is a beautiful coastline. The Mediterranean is a beautiful blue color. It was colder than we thought it would be. It was saltier than the Pacific Ocean which surprised us. We all got in and the kids had fun with the peace donut! The first thing that happened when we put it down was that the wind blew it away. Good thing Sean is in shape. He had to run to catch it. Most of the people on the beach seemed to be tourists like us. Languages we heard were French, German, Russian and Dutch.    Sean and I like to try different candies that you don’t see in the states. These are different types of Mentos. Sean was hungry, so he and Sophia went to get food. Sean ordered pizza and Sophia ordered pasta with sauce. It is the second time this trip that she has done that. The Spanish version of marinara sauce tastes like Campbell’s tomato soup if you don’t add water. We find it gross. I asked an Italian we met about the quality of Italian red sauce in Spain, and he agreed they don’t do it well. When they got back from eating Sean told Jim and me that something really embarrassing happened. Sean’s pizza arrived without being cut into slices. The waiter who delivered it was older. Sean said to the waiter, “Would you please cut this.” The waiter looked askance at Sean, then picked up his knife and fork, and said, “You don’t know how to cut?” Then the waiter proceeded to cut Sean’s pizza into bite sized pieces for him. Realizing what was happening, Sean said, “That’s okay, I got it.” But the waiter wouldn’t stop cutting. Instead he looked at Sean as he was cutting and said, “You like a baby.” Sophia of course was laughing at the whole ordeal. Of course this has been a running joke ever since. We have since learned that in France and Spain at least pizza is not cut into slices. When we left Jim put the peace donut in the back window, so we could drive through the Spanish countryside spreading a message of peace. Before leaving town we bought some fruit. The fruit in the North of Spain has been really delicious. The kids fell asleep in the back seat on the way back to Girona. It was quite a full day.    We were hungry so we went back to B12 to have vegan tapas, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Restaurant-Bar-B-12/175203855832255. The food there was just delicious. We asked one of the owners, Jordi, about the movement for Catalan to separate from Spain. We heard from many people in this area about their differences from the Southern people of Spain. One of their gripes is that a lot of tax dollars come from Catalan, that are spent in the rest of Spain, not in Catalan. It is easy to see that happening. The area around Costa Brava alone must bring in many tourist dollars. The people of Catalan consider themselves more relaxed and easy going too. They are right about how friendly and easy going they are. How they compare to the rest of Spain, we don’t know. We have yet to leave Catalan. We are having that good of a time in it!        After dinner, Jim and I walked the wall and the kids went to the room. We saw 2 people the entire time!                        Forgive any typos the wifi is not good so I am posting it while I can.

Check out my previous post from the Spain trip here.

Why they Chose Girona to Film the Game of Thrones, Girona, Spain


Why they Chose Girona to Film the Game of Thrones, Girona, Spain

I will not actually bore you with a written answer to that. The photos speak for themselves. Girona is magical. It is now one of my favorite towns I have visited of all time. The others are

  • The area around and walking up to Seigfreid’s castle in Germany: I walked up to this on a deserted old road, early in the morning, with only a handful of other people around. It was a magical misty morning. The castle and grounds had not been preserved. It felt like stepping back in time.
  • Amboise in France: This is the town that took in Leonardo da Vinci when he was kicked out of Italy for his heretical views. There are houses still in use that are carved into the surrounding rock walls. It also has a lovely castle that belonged to the Prince who took da Vinci in.
  • The Cliffs of Mohrer and the Burrens in Ireland: I cannot think of the name of the town we stayed in. It had a lovely inn in a small town very near to the Cliffs and Burren. It is an area with fields, stone walls, the Burrens and the Cliffs of Mohrer. There are small, abandoned castles and lots of sheep with their butts spray painted different colors.
  • Jaisalmer, India: I adored Jaiselmer! It is a magical place. It is still inhabited, so you can get a feel for how these forts used to function.
  • Both Eger and Sopron, Hungary: Eger has churches and cathedrals with a beautifully preserved muezzin. The wine dungeons are a fun experience. We stayed inside the old Roman walls in Sopron. Can you tell I like historical places?
  • An old castle we visited in the Ukraine: When my daughter-in-law’s father heard I love castles he took us to 2. The first one we went to was almost empty surrounded by stinging nettles. (Ouch!) It was the first time I could really imagine what it was like to be back in the Middle Ages!
  • Machu Picchu: We hiked in to Machu Picchu along the Santa Teresa trail. It is a magical way to get to one of the most spectacular places in the world.

Back to Girona

 Breakfast was at the Historic Hotel. It was delicious. We found the fruit and vegetables from Catalan to be some of the best we ever ate! There are several options for staying in Girona. We opted to stay in a historical family room. In the only Jewish residence still in use.

The following is from an interview with our Xave who with his family owns the Historic Hotel and Casa Cundaro. Girona was built in 1 before God (that is a quote). The Jewish quarter was established 8-9 centuries after God. It was designed so that the Christian District was higher on the hill than the Jewish Quarter. This area was walled, so if their families expanded and they needed more space they would block off lanes and build rooms there or build an arch over the lane and then build rooms on top. That was the only way they could expand. The dining room of the Historic Hotel have stones in its walls that were used to build walls by the Romans.

Casa Cundara was owned by a family and passed down for generations. We would learn at the Jewish Museum a couple of days later that the family would have had to convert to Christianity in order for that to happen. The family stopped using it, and it was bought by their neighbors, the current owners. When the new owners bought it they wanted to put a jacuzzi in the garden area. When they began the project, they found something buried under the garden. They had to call archaeologists in when they excavated it. They found 2 houses with a street running between them. They dated what they found to Roman times. They also discovered a mezuzah that is over 1000 years old. (I know it shows a menorah not a mezuzah.)

One of the reasons Girona looks as it does, is that when movies and TV shows are made there, the town uses the revenue to continue the restoration of the historic district. Xave asked if we had seen Perfume. We had not, but I have read the book. I asked if the people from the Game of Thrones had contacted him about staying there. They called him when we were eating breakfast. This is where I would want to stay if I were them!

 It is no surprise to learn a lot of bike riders come here. It is lovely, quiet, and hilly. These are photos of some of the famous cyclists who have stayed here.

 Girona is a walled city. We woke the kids and walked the wall. There were very few people. One of the most surprising things about Girona is how few people there are visiting it. Lucky for us but surprising. It is so special! The walls and the town they surround are a mix of Roman walls and structures, buildings and walls built by the many rulers since then, and more modern work that has been done to make the structures sound.

 The cathedral tolls the hour. In case you are wondering, Sean is not wearing the same shirt. He has taken James’ shirt!

   The lady bugs we saw had an elongated shape. One of my biology professors once told us that people call this the age of man. It would be more correct to call it the age of the beetle. (Lady bugs are beetles.)

Sophia and I love tea. When we found a tea shop, we had to have some. The shop owner was very kind to us, and his English was perfect. We even treated ourselves to some tea for the rest of the trip.

 Then we visited the highest rated vegan restaurant in town. It was delicious!

 We spent some of the day wandering around Girona. There are stairs all through Girona. It is exercise getting around. There are people running the steps all through Girona.

I thought of you Sharon and Laurel when I saw these.



There is a old wall and a new wall. In the evening we walked the old wall.

Check out my previous Spain post here.

Handcrafting High School: Year 1, Month 8

Handcrafting High School: Year 1, Month 8

What a crazy month April was. We moved for the third time since the summer of 2012, and we aren’t in the military. First we moved from the mountains to San Diego where there is a larger homeschool community. That house was too far inland, so we moved closer to the coast. That house was too far from rowing and our adult kids, so we moved closer to both. As you can imagine our friends and family think we’re crazy, or that we really like to move. I feel the feather in Forrest Gump. In addition to moving, we spent time on the road at away races. We have a new granddaughter/niece (depending on who you’re talking to.) I wrote a blog article that led to the formation of a new group, Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers, which has kept me busy. I have also been working on instructions for the illustrator for Astronomy and Earth Science, and anytime I read over my work I edit it. It’s enough to keep even an energizer bunny like me busy!

We took time this month to stop at the Che Cafe to help paint. A good friend of ours is leading the effort to save the building for demolition. They invited Sean to come paint with the muralist Mario Torero, http://www.fuerzamundo.org/paintings/murals/
We took time this month to stop at the Che Cafe to help paint. A good friend of ours is leading the effort to save the building for demolition. They invited Sean to come paint with the muralist Mario Torero, http://www.fuerzamundo.org/paintings/murals/

Handcrafting High School: Computer Science

Last month Sean began writing the code to design a website. He continued working on and enjoying that project. He also signed himself up for the Coursera Course: Malicious Software and Its Underground Economy: Two Sides to Every Story, https://www.coursera.org/course/malsoftware. The professor teaching it, Dr. Lorenzo Cavallero, assigns technical academic reading from peer-reviewed journals each week of the six-week class. This gave me the opportunity to work with Sean on how to read technical academic writing. I had several professors in college assign scientific papers to be read and disseminated. It is a skilled type of reading that most people outside of scientific communities don’t have much experience with. That’s too bad, because many issues we make decisions about in our personal life are based on the findings of scientists. If you aren’t able to understand what scientists are talking about in their writings, then you have to rely on others to interpret those writings for you. That said, I’m a scientist, and it didn’t occur to me until this week that I should start working with Sean so that he has experience with this type of skilled reading. If you’re wondering what he thinks of the readings, he finds them dry, very dry. Sean is slogging through them though. When he finishes an article, I have him explain to me what the authors’ points are and what the focus of their study is. I was very pleased with his answers. (Even though, I didn’t really understand what he was talking about. Seriously, botnets?!?) Here is a link to an article someone sent me about how to read scientific papers. I didn’t use it, because I had already finished tutoring Sean on how to do it, but I read it and thought it was good. http://violentmetaphors.com/2013/08/25/how-to-read-and-understand-a-scientific-paper-2/.

Handcrafting High School: Math

This year math has clicked for Sean. He calls it his easy subject. It began when he started using a calculator for simple calculations. Once those sort of simple calculations were out of the way, Sean gained more confidence, because he could see he was good at the more difficult steps. It has been frustrating over the years to deal with this. I have told him for years he is better at math than he thinks he is. He saw that he got the problem incorrect without recognizing he did everything correct except calculate 5*7 correctly. (For some reason 5*7 is often a problem for him.) So he thought he was bad at math. The complicated, multi-stepped problems that he knows he has to pay attention to, he does well at. The problems that focused on simple calculations, he would often get wrong.

It took me a while, but I have come to be much more accepting of computerized systems in our homeschool. Why not use Dragon software for dictation if you struggle with handwriting, a calculator if you struggle with simple calculations, spell check or grammar check if those are weak areas for you? I’m not suggesting people don’t learn basic math, spelling, or grammar. I’m suggesting that if a student is struggling with a subject there is an argument to be made for eliminating the specific area they’re struggling with to focus on the larger picture. Students can continue to work on the areas they’re struggling with separately. Although you know if you follow this blog, I told Sean that unless he took the time on his own he was never going to have his multiplication tables mastered, and we left those behind. At some point, life is too short.

Sean is getting instructions from Mario.
Sean is getting instructions from Mario.

Handcrafting High School: Science

This was an interesting month in science for us. Last month we decided to spend the rest of this school year studying astronomy. At the beginning of this month I gave Sean a list of astronomy questions to answer. These were in areas he expressed interest in previously. He researched the answer to each question and then worked on writing strong paragraphs with good topic sentences to answer them.

While Sean worked on this, I looked over the text I am writing to make sure it was realistic to use it as a high school level course. As I have said before, astronomy, cosmology, and earth science could easily be called applied physics and chemistry. By including more applied math, and some more technical modeling exercises it was surprisingly easy to bring Astronomy and Earth Science 2 to a high school level. Interestingly, I found myself in conversation with someone who was a very well regarded high school physics and chemistry teacher. She is now running the science department for a private school in California. When I told her what I had been working on her response was, “That makes sense. There isn’t much difference between high school and middle school labs. If you included more math and focused on modeling and data analysis, you could definitely use a middle school course for high school.” It is interesting how often these sort of coincidences happen in life, isn’t it 😉

Sean spent the last part of the month reviewing the early chapters in astronomy, but this time with more math, focused modeling and data analysis, and with research questions woven through. We were both happy with the results.

Handcrafting High School: Language Arts

The focus of language arts this month was on nonfiction writing and reading. Most of Sean’s language arts has not focused on nonfiction writing, because he prefers fiction. I warned him the focus on nonfiction writing and reading would be the situation through most of 10th grade. As usual when asked to do something that is not his ideal choice, he grumbled a bit and then with his characteristic good humor got on with the task at hand. It helped that I had him focus on 3 areas that interest him.

  1. Astronomy: He researched and wrote about parallel universes, dark matter, and black holes.
  2. Volunteer/Travel: He spent time learning more about the Oglala Lakota tribe and the situation on the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is an interesting but depressing topic.
  3. Politics: As with science, I gave him a series of questions to research and write about. Here is a list of the questions. I told him that if he had any problems filling these out, he should call the local Democratic or Republican headquarters and they would be able to help him answer the questions. (I am sorry to share these and not the astronomy questions, but I keep all my original work very close to my chest until it is published.)
    • What are the names of all the political parties who ran a candidate in the 2012 presidential election?
    • How many of these parties already have a declared candidate as of 4\16\2015?
    • What are the names of the candidates who have already declared their candidacy?
    • What is the procedure for declaring your candidacy for president?
    • Are there differences for declaring your candidacy depending on your party affiliation?
    • Are there differences for declaring your candidacy depending on the state you are from?
    • Does it cost money to declare your candidacy? If yes how much? If yes, what do you think about this policy? If no, do you think there should be a fee? We will be discussing your answer to this. I will be taking the opposite position, so be prepared to defend and discuss your position.
    • What does the term platform mean when referring to politics?
    • A lot of strategizing goes into how a candidate runs their campaign. What do you think the thinking is for someone who declares their candidacy early, or first?
    • Some candidates are predicted right away to have a good shot at winning, and others are predicted to have no shot at winning. It costs a lot of money, both your own and donated, to run for president. Why would anyone donate money to someone who is not predicted to win? (Hint: think about platform issues.)
    • Conservative Republicans are saying that Hillary Clinton is anti-homeschool. Is that what she said though? Let’s watch and see what we think, http://www.c-span.org/video/?325353-1/hillary-clinton-education-roundtable-iowa.
    • This sort of spin happens to all candidates. What do you think the effect of misleading or untrue spin is on people’s attitudes toward the political process as a whole?

Sean also signed up for the Coursera Course Online Gamers: Literature, The New Media, and Narrative. He really wanted to take this. This course requires Sean to read Lord of the Rings, play the online game called LOTRO, and possibly do some writing. I’m not completely sure about that. This course started at the very end of the month. We will see how it goes. As long as he can get to all his other subjects, he can keep on doing this one, https://www.coursera.org/course/onlinegames. It’s a good course, but I think Sean might have signed up for it so he has an academic excuse to play video games 😉

Handcrafting High School: History, Law, and Unsolved Crimes

We continued to work on and review Pandia’s Level 3 American History course. We should have been done with it, but Sean got sidetracked studying about the plight of Indigenous People’s. We are taking this area of study slow; because the injustices done to them make him so angry, it can sidetrack the day.

Sean started a new course through Crime Scene Camps. We are going to be sorry when Sean has taken all of Thom’s courses. They are so good, and Thom is a master at focusing in and digging deeper. We use the courses for discussion purposes. I haven’t had Sean do anything beyond reading and discussing them with Thom and me. Sean has learned so much through them. The new course is Unsolved Crimes. So far Sean has learned about Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden. This class is fun! I am reading along with him!

Here is the description of the course from Thom’s website.

Unsolved Crimes:  Update–In my work on the Zodiac case, I have uncovered new clues that have never been discussed previously.  The first place I shared this information was with my current homeschool session of this course.  This course is a homeschool version of one of my most popular college courses.  We will look at iconic unsolved crimes and apply modern techniques to our analysis of each case.  Each week, we will read about one of the cases, do our own research, and then discuss various hypotheses.  The cases covered will include Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, The Black Dahlia, The Zodiac, the Lindbergh Kidnapping, and others.  While some of these cases have a high level of violence, I tone it down, even in my college classes.  I am more interested in solving the forensic puzzle.

Handcrafting High School: Crew

Jim and I chaperoned one of the away races this month. It was a blast. I rode on the girls’ bus and Jim rode up on the boys’ bus. We left the clubhouse at 4 a.m. I sat right behind the driver. I should tell you that I am an early riser. I am also the type of person to ask about and honestly want to hear the story of someone’s life. While every other person on the bus tried to sleep, I learned about the driver’s interesting and inspiring life. He had been violent in his youth and had been in and out of prison because of it. Somewhere along the line he turned his life around. He has done a good job of raising his children and the children of his various girlfriends and wives. He is still close to all of the children even the ones that are not his. He helped any of them who wanted to go to college to do so. One of the times when he was in prison, one of his ex-girlfriend had twins without letting him know. When the twins were 3, he was contacted by the state of California to pay child support for them. At that time the twins were homeless. This was the first he knew about them. He fought for and was granted custody of them. Even as I realized that his voice was very loud, and that there was grumbling on the bus all around me, I did not stop him in his story. It really was that interesting, and I am not good at stopping people when they are on a roll. I lost my privilege of riding behind the bus driver forever! LOL‼

For the first time since he joined the team, Sean experienced burnout. It lasted about a week. The week before he loved crew and wanted to go to a college with a crew team. The following week he was done with crew and didn’t want to ever row again. The next week he loved crew and wanted to go to a college with the crew team. This used to happen toward the end of the ski season too. Crew has a nine month season. It is probably lucky that April was month eight of the season.

We have 4 weeks of school before we leave for Spain. Beginning on the 27th of May we leave for Spain. I will be blogging every day about our travels.

Check out month seven here and month nine here.

Cusco, Peru, Day 4 of our trip to Machu Picchu


Cusco, Peru, Day 4 of our trip to Machu Picchu

When my husband Jim told me he had booked a trip for us where we would hike into Machu Picchu over several days, I was not pleased. In fact, I was irritated about it. It is embarrassing to admit now, but I had no desire to go on vacation and hike and stay in remote lodges along the way. He was surprised. He had booked the trip as a surprise for me and thought I was going to be delighted when I found out. It turns out he was right. It was one of the most fantastic trips I have ever been on.

Once I wrapped my head around the fact that this was going to be a great trip, and we were going on it, I began training for it. The plan was to hike our way with a guided tour in to Machu Picchu along the Santa Teresa Trail. It is remote, and other than guides who have some first aid training there are no medical facilities. You are at a high altitude for the entire hike, and even if you are fit the altitude can become a factor. My goal with my training regimen was that I never wanted to have to think about putting 1 foot in front of the other. I wanted to be able to focus exclusively on the sites and the people around me. I was successful. At the time we were living at 6000 feet in the mountains in California. I began hiking in the mountains 4 to 6 miles a day, six days a week. By the end of it I was in great shape and so were my dogs. Our pug looked like the fittest, sleekest potato you have ever seen.

We hiked with a group of people, most of who did not train for this trip. One of the people who began the trip was even afraid of heights. If you are afraid of heights, you do not want to hike into Machu Picchu. If you do not train for this trip, or take comfortable waterproof or Gore-Tex hiking boots you are definitely going to spend a lot of the hike thinking about placing 1 foot in front of the other. It doesn’t sound too demanding sitting in a chair in Southern California thinking about hiking 37 miles over several days. It’s a different story when you’re actually doing that hiking in an unfamiliar country at altitude.

turn right at Machu Picchu

Before leaving I read the book Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams. It just occurred to me that was the last book I read aloud to Sean, sniff…sniff… It wasn’t about Sean’s reading level, but I don’t think he would have finished the book without me reading it to him. The book takes turns staggering chapters. It staggers one chapter telling the story of Mark Adams’ journey hiking over Hiram Bingham’s path with another chapter telling Hiram Bingham’s story. Hiram Bingham has been credited with “discovering” Machu Picchu.

coca leaves

That is what coca tea looks like. These are the leaves cocaine is made from, but chemically they are no more like the cocaine people abuse than ephedrine is to crystal meth. The leaves have to be processed to become the drug. The tea is very mild and quite yummy. It tastes sort of like hay smells when it is freshly cut. It is recommended that low-landers drink it when visiting because it helps you to deal with the altitude. Which luckily we have not yet felt any ill effects from except being more out of breath than normal when we climb steps. Supposedly the tea is a mild stimulant, similar in strength to coffee. I am drinking it this morning because I don’t want to wake the boys up, and until they wake up coffee is not available. Our doctor suggested we drink the tea while here. She said, “The people in that area have been drinking it for thousands and thousands of years. They know what they are doing.”

The next few photos are a series showing a traffic jam in Cusco. The streets are so narrow my jeep would BARELY fit down the streets. The cars are driving fast, too. You have to hop out of the street when one is coming. The streets are two-way even though they are barely wide enough for one car. This jam had cars going in all directions.

traffic jam one traffic jam 2 traffic jam 3 traffic jam 4

sauxhuawamen 1

These ruins are in the hills above Cusco. The name is Sacsayhuaman, which is pronounced sexy woman. It was spectacular. The Incans have been dubbed the Romans of the Americas, and when you visit a site like this you know why. This is also the site of one of the most bitter indigenous rebellions against the Spanish conquerors.


I have taken the following text directly from the site, http://www.world-mysteries.com/mpl_9.htm

“Sacsayhuamán (also known as Sacsahuaman) is a walled complex near the old city of Cusco, at an altitude of 3,701 m. or 12,000 feet. The site is part of the City of Cuzco, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983.

When the Spanish conquerors arrived first to these lands; they could not explain themselves how Peruvian “Indians” (ignorant, wild, without any ability of logical reasoning, one more animal species according to conquerors) could have built such a greatness. Their religious fanaticism led them to believe that all that was simply work of demons or malign spirits. Still today, many people believe in the inability of ancient Quechuas to create such a wonder, so they suggest that they were made by beings of some other worlds, extraterrestrial beings with superior technology that made all that possible. However, our history and archaeology demonstrate that those objects of admiration are an undeniable work of the Incas, Quechuas, Andean people or however pre-Hispanic inhabitants of this corner of the world would be named.

The imperial city Cusco, meaning ‘navel of the earth,’ was laid out in the form of a puma, the animal that symbolized the Inca dynasty. The belly of the puma was the main plaza, the river Tullumayo formed its spine, and the hill of Sacsayhuaman its head.

One of the most imposing architectonic complexes inherited from the Incan Society is Sacsayhuaman, which because of several of its qualities is considered as one of the best monuments that mankind built on the earth’s surface.

The wall or rampart is the most impressive section, built with enormous carved limestone boulders, this construction has a broken line that faces to the main plaza called Chuquipampa which is a slope with 25 angles and 60 walls.The biggest carved boulder of the first wall weighs about 70 tons and like all of the other rocks was brought from a quarry called Sisicancha, three kilometers away and where there are still rocks that were transported part of the way. Each wall is made up of 10 fronts with the most important ones known as Rumipunco, tiupunku, Achuanpunku and Viracocha punku.”


There are caves throughout these hills. Just like California, what is now Peru was once the seabed of an ancient ocean. These hills are made from limestone in many places. In others they are basalt.

our guide Hector

When we arrived at Sacsayhuaman there were guides hocking their services at the front gate. We had never hired a guy before, and didn’t really feel the need, but we felt sorry for the guides because there were a lot of them and they were not asking for very much money. We learned something from this. Guides when you are at locations that you don’t know very much about are a good thing. Since then when we have visited sites where there are guides available, we always hire one. We have very seldom been disappointed that we did.

Shawn in the throne

Do you see the face on the left side of the throne?

family photo cave

We are in a cave in a tunnel. There is a cave system all the way to Cusco from here, which would be a long way to dig a cave.

for funneling water

How the Incan funneled water into areas.

burial Lake

This is a burial site. Along the outer ring there were tombs. The inside was a lake. The Incans revered water so they had the mummified remains of some emperors looking out on this man-made lake.

for sizing

That is not a throne; it was used as a model for stone size and shape. So the architect could say, “I want 100 of that size.”


Can you believe the guys almost didn’t slide down this?!? I have a saying when we travel, “We have to do this. We might never get this way again.” At least the boys are pretty good sports about it. One of my stepsons told me once that I had a reputation for talking to random-assed people all over the world. I don’t usually cuss on my blog but I am proud to say that he’s right. I do. I often have friends tell me that I would be the perfect person to travel with. I am not sure that everyone would actually like to travel with me. I am not the sit on a beach and read a good book on a vacation type. I am the let’s see every single thing that there is to see and meet as many people who live here as possible type. We usually come home from our vacations exhausted.

sauxhuawamen 2

There are 4 theories about the shape of this wall 1. Puma teeth 2. Snake 3. Lightening 4. To prevent it from falling when earthquakes occur. Cusco is on a fault line. There have been three major earthquakes since it was constructed, and it has withstood them all.

family 2

Look how little he is. Now Sean is the tallest of the three of us. If you’re wondering what the deal is with his foot, I will tell you in a day or so in a shorter post.

family photo at sauxhuawemen

The Incan’s had no heavy machinery and no draft animals. It is still just a matter of theory as to how these were built.

puma foot

Do you see the puma foot?

guinea pig

What about the guinea pig? These rocks are absolutely huge by the way.

stone doorway

These are Incan doorways. They reminded me of Ireland. Lots of piles of stones always remind me of Ireland.


This is a llama. A piece of paper could not fit between any of the rocks, and all the angles and offsets from one rock to another are on purpose. It is an ancient form of earthquake proofing.


We are standing at 12,352.4 feet in altitude.

Incan baths to Incan baths 1

The next site we went to was called Tambomchay. Tambomachay is an example of Incan baths, aqueducts, and temples. The volume of water is always the same coming through the holes.

stones lining the Creek
This creek is lined for 2 km up with stones that were put there during Incan times. This is just the beginning of our trip; by the end we were convinced that Roman masons had nothing on the Incan’s.

red Fort

The next stop was Pukapukara, the red fortress, named that because of the red rocks used. It was a military garrison built to protect the valley, because it is at a high point.

looking back at the Incan baths
The Incan baths where we just were.

root veggies

At 11,000+ feet altitude they grow mainly root vegetables. Peru is on the equator so even at 12,000 feet it never snows.


These are representative of the local houses around Cusco.


More earthquake-safe building. Think of a doorway shaped this way as the difference in stability when you plant your feet shoulder width apart and when you stand with them together tightly. If someone tried to knock you over, which would be more stable, your feet shoulder width apart or tightly together?


Jim ate guinea pig drumsticks. He says Jojo and PJ, our guinea pigs, have nothing to worry about.

Check out my post about days one through three here and day five here.

Handcrafting High School: Year 1, Month 7

Handcrafting high school
The second rowing meet in March. Once again in Long Beach.
The second rowing meet in March. Once again in Long Beach.
The Freshman Four
The Freshman Four
There the Freshman 4 are in the boat. Jim and I are chaperoning one of the races in April, 2015
There the Freshman 4 are in the boat.

Some months a handcrafted education looks like a carefully detailed pattern has been followed as if I bought something from Butterwick, cut it out carefully, pinned everything meticulously, and sewed all the pieces exactly to Butterwick’s specifications. Other times a handcrafted education looks like a crazy quilt. It has a little of this and a little of that. It looks like I ran out of the fabric that I was planning on using and began to wildly improvise. This month looked and felt like a crazy quilt. It was productive, satisfying, and dizzying. We crammed in everything that we could, with some left over spilling out into the future. (There’s always the summer months, LOL!) But hey, that’s homeschooling! I worked hard with scheduling this month so that between academics and rowing Sean could still have time with his friends. Rowing is a big time commitment, in part because we live an hour away from where he rows. In fact, in April we are moving 55 minutes closer to rowing. We love the house we live in now. It is nicer than the one were moving to, but to cut 1 hour and 50 minutes of driving time out of our day 5 to 6 days a week is big. I can’t wait!

Blair, "Wow, that is a lot of plaid. Why are you packing all those plaid shirts?" Jim, "When I was shopping for shirts there were a lot of plaid shirts. They must be in style now." Blair, "That much plaid will never be in style honey."
Blair, “Wow, that is a lot of plaid. Why are you packing all those plaid shirts?”
Jim, “When I was shopping for shirts there were a lot of plaid shirts. They must be in style now.”
Blair, “That much plaid will never be in style honey.”

Part of the crazy schedule was because my husband, Jim, went to the Women’s Conference at the United Nations in New York City in March. Jim usually does most of the driving, taking Sean where he needs to go. Jim was at the Woman’s Conference because he believes that gender equality and women’s rights are critical issues that need to be addressed to solve many of the problems in the world today. He wanted to learn more about what women from different countries felt were the key issues faced by women. He thought this would be a good place to get a feel for that. Jim has been working on his Masters for a few years now. He is getting close to the end. His Masters is in International Relations. It may seem hokey but in our house we spend time talking about things like how to make your life matter and making the world a better place for our kids and grandkids (and yours too). My husband hopes to use his Masters as a way of doing that. I don’t know what we will do when Sean goes away to college. One of the things we’ve talked about is joining the Peace Corps.



Computer science

Sean finished the second quarter of computer programming with C/C++. The first two weeks of March were the last two weeks of the class. The amount of work assigned for those two weeks was intense. There really was no way to get ahead in this class, because each week there were 2 to 4 programs to write and an open book quiz that was really hard. So each week you were writing programs for that week’s assignment. Sean put in 12 to 14 hour days 6 days a week for the last two weeks. I insisted that he take 1 day off each week. At one point we debated about having him take the next quarter of the series, and then decided we were being ridiculous about it. He needed to have time for his other subjects, and he was getting burnt out about computer programming.

We slipped away for one night to attend this camping trip in Joshua Tree in California.
We slipped away for one night to attend this camping trip in Joshua Tree in California.
We have a wonderful homeschool group in our state called HSC. They organize camping trips every 6 to 8 months or so. They are such a great time!
We have a wonderful homeschool group in our state called HSC. They organize camping trips every 6 to 8 months or so. They are such a great time!
It is a youth/childhood to remember. All the kids love these trips.
It is a youth/childhood to remember. All the kids love these trips.

I asked Sean to think of a project that he would like to work on in computer science to finish out the academic school year; something that he thought would be fun. He told me he wanted to design a website for a history project that we are going to do for the next school year. It is an idea that I came up with and when I originally suggested he design a website for it, it was as an academic exercise for him so that he could apply what he has been learning. (A Wordpress blog would suffice for the project, but I would have set that up not Sean.) I think the application of knowledge is an important step in the learning process and one that is often overlooked as we cram subjects with information that is supposed to be memorized without applying it. Sean told me he needed one solid day to work on the website every week. I am glad he picked this project, because the last half of March saw him becoming enthused about computer science once again. Yay, his passion became a passion again! As far as all the hard work and cramming, wow, does he know a lot more about computer programming! As he has been applying what he learned over the last year, I have been seriously impressed. Even though I have no idea what he’s doing most of the time.


When Sean and I realized the amount of time computer science was going to take we took a break from the rest of his core academic subjects. Sean continued taking Law and History in Context. The other two “non-play” related things he continued to do were rowing and working every other weekend teaching kids computer programming.

Both Sean and I had a big surprise when he picked his math text back up. For the first time in Sean’s life math poured out of him like water out of a pitcher. My grandmother once told me that in our family math either poured out of you like water from a pitcher it was so easy, or you had to work at it. Math has always poured out of me, and my grandmother and mother, like water out of a picture. Interestingly enough that is not the case for my sister, but it is the case for my nephew, her son. For Sean, he had to work at it just like my sister did. Not anymore, though. Now he can sit down and do what used to be two days’ worth of math in half the time it took him to do one day. Math is now Sean’s easiest subject! 

Tempe Town Lake, where the Desert Sprints were held
Tempe Town Lake, where the Desert Sprints were held
The kids rode in a bus to Tempe, Arizona. Jim and I drove.
The kids rode in a bus to Tempe, Arizona. Jim and I drove.
Sean watching his friends play cards on the team bus.
Sean watching his friends play cards on the team bus.


I am so lucky that Sean did high school level biology in eighth grade. Because try as we might I cannot see how we are going to finish the entire astronomy and earth science course this year. Part of that is because Sean has become entranced with astronomy. The course opens as an astronomy and cosmology course and then moves on to become an earth science course. Whereas it is easy to move through math more quickly, it doesn’t make sense to do that with science when someone becomes interested in an area and wants to investigate further. Sean has gotten to the point where he is asking questions about parallel universes that I don’t know the answers to. He has taken all the knowledge I have about the subject, learned more, and is accessing what scientists know or think they know about parallel universes at a level beyond where I am on the subject. It is everything that a teacher could hope for. When Sean was little he used to tell me that I was so smart he was never going to be that smart. I used to tell him that I hoped that he would learn everything I knew and be smarter.


Writing this year is pushing my panic buttons. I need to go hang out with my dear unschooling friends more. Sean is a very good writer.  His main problem with his writing is that he likes to take every writing project and turn it into a big project. Big writing projects take time, lots and lots of time. Something we have not had a lot of this year. Even when he stays within the confines of a five paragraph essay, he tries to cram in as much information as possible, spending hours and days researching the topic. Then me he works for hours trying to get as much of this information into his paper as possible. The problem with that is, the writing isn’t tight. It makes his papers feel like they are not cohesive. The way he puts words together is excellent. As a reader though, you start to lose focus because there is just so much there. It doesn’t sound like much of a problem does it. To become a better writer the formula is very simple level though; you need to write. That is the entire formula. It makes me nervous when we are spending all our time on computer programming and not taking time for writing. I bought the IEW writing program, and it was really simple for Sean. At the end of the day, I do not think it is the best program for someone who already is a good writer and just needs to work on some of the stylistic issues. Some of the stylistic issues Sean needs to work on are big though. Sean does not write a good concluding paragraph. His transitions going from one body paragraph to the next are nonexistent. And he is not careful about making sure that his introductory paragraph has a lead in to each of his body paragraphs. Just as I was starting to worry, along came something very serendipitous. This type of serendipity is actually been the hallmark of this year.

One of the only perks I have ever gotten from all my writing came along this month 😉 I had the opportunity to preview a section of the High School American History Course that my publisher Pandia Press is working on right now. It was not until we had been working with this course for a week that I realized in addition to teaching history the author of the course is attempting something ambitious. She is completely successful in her attempt too. In addition to teaching American history, the author weaves study techniques and the skill of writing nonfiction essays throughout the course. If you take the time to use the techniques she is presenting to students in the student guide and the teaching techniques she gives you in the teacher’s guide, the course can be used as a history course and the bulk of a writing course. The benefits to integrating writing with another academic discipline are similar to what I was talking about when I said it was important for Sean to apply the computer programming skills he learned. I think that to take interesting topics or even just those that are assigned and apply writing skills in a meaningful way is the best way to learn writing. It also makes the academics more integrated, which both Sean and I prefer. I also have Sean write lab reports, and take some notes in science. Sean really likes to write fiction, so I give him time each year to work on his fiction writing too.

Travel Plans

2014 was the first year in a long time that we did not travel anywhere. We had planned on traveling in the fall of 2014, but rowing got in the way. One of the things we did this month was to figure out where we are going to go this summer. Rowing is a nine month a year commitment. And Sean wants to stay committed to it next year. So we have to do our travel during the summer when there is a break from rowing.

On May 27, we leave for Spain for three weeks. I will be blogging every day as we travel. There will be a couple of posts before we leave. We are also going to take the month of August and take a driving trip through the northern part of the United States. We will be stopping at some of the national parks along the way such as Yellowstone. We will be at the Oglala Lakota reservation called Pine Ridge in South Dakota in the middle of August where we will volunteer for a week helping to build houses for the residents there, http://www.re-member.org/. I will also be blogging every day of that trip.

Check out our post on teaching high school and middle school physics here.