Handcrafting High School: Year 2, Custer State Park

Handcrafting High School: Year 2, Custer State Park

I think the year you study geology and environmental science, you should spend time outside looking at the subject of your studies, so we did. I did not keep a daily journal, because I had writer’s block. Something I had never experienced before. It gave me insight into what happens for kids who have good ideas but can’t get them onto a page. My writer’s block made me feel like my brain was constipated. I had so many ideas running around in my head I had trouble getting anything out at all. It made me scattered and feel a little crazy. By the time I would get to my computer to write something down, I would forget it in the jumbled, spaghetti noodle, chaotic manner that sometimes has plagued Sean’s writing. This led to a light bulb as I realized what part of Sean’s problem was. The other problem with writing all this down was that National and State Parks, for the most part, had terrible cell service and internet.

Custer state park

86 miles from Pine Ridge nestled in the heart of the Black Hills sits the absolutely beautiful state park, Custer State Park. Both the name of the park and the beauty of it are hard to stomach, especially when you realize the Supreme Court has agreed the Black Hills, including the land this park is on, was illegally taken from the Sioux, but they cannot have it back. Talk about historical trauma! The two photos are symbolic of this. The sign is in protest of the uranium mine built just outside the reservation that is polluting their water. In the park is the residence where Calvin Coolidge spent 3 months during one of the summers he was President, Summer White House in South Dakota. The water at it is not being polluted with radioactive waste.IMG_5112

8/21-22: Custer, SD

Custer state parkWe went into the town of Custer, South Dakota to wash clothes, do a little shopping, and stock up on groceries. The people were lovely. We wondered though, how it would be if Sean and Sophia looked like a Native Americans. We had read about and heard so many stories about racist actions toward the Sioux in South Dakota, and they made us recognize and acknowledge the white privilege conferred on us. The kids began to think of stereotyping as a dangerous thing to do, even though Sean told us everybody does it, and you have to think about it not to do it.

This Park is has great wildlife viewing in it.

The next day we drove around the wildlife loop and to an area just outside the park where someone told me about a large prairie dog town.

Just outside Custer State Park is Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave is huge. In fact it is so huge that wind occurs at its natural opening. Whether the wind blows into or out of this opening depends on the atmospheric pressure outside of the cave. When the pressure is high, wind blows into the cave, and when it is low, it blows out of the cave. Wind Cave has over 100 miles of passageways. As you can see from the yellow tape our guide is holding, the pressure on this day was higher outside the cave than inside it, which is why the yellow tape is being sucked into the opening.

Native Americans consider(ed) Wind Cave a sacred place.Custer state parkCaves are fascinating examples of the geologic forces that shape Earth. The original cave began forming about 320 million years ago in a fresh/salt water zone. About 470,000 years ago the cave started draining, Wind Cave geology and more Wind Cave geology.

Custer state park

These boxwork formations are rare in caves, boxwork . Boxwork remains after the rest of the cave has dissolved away because of differences in solubility of the mineral calcite, which is what boxwork form from, and the minerals that surrounded them.Custer state park

After two days at Custer we headed toward Jackson Hole, home to an old family friend of mine. There had been some discussion about seeing Mount Rushmore, and I said, “No Way!” I just couldn’t. The man who originally carved Mount Rushmore was in the KKK, Mount Rushmore, the KKK, and sanitized American history. After learning this, it was unanimous. We stopped outside of the Crazy Horse Monument, but we didn’t pay to visit there either. It didn’t look to me like that monument benefited the Native Peoples in South Dakota, and we were all done with supporting businesses in South Dakota that did not give back to the Native Community.

Check out our previous homeschooling high school post here.

Handcrafting High School: Year 2, Month 1: Re-member

Handcrafting High School: Year 2, Month 1: Re-member

I’m going to depart a bit and tell you about what we learned. I think it is the best way for you to get a feel for the profound benefits of exposing young people to this sort of service project where there is service directly to a community, field trips in the community, and talks from members of the community. Talks given by members of this community, while you are volunteering in it, that focus on issues the community is dealing with and has dealt with, are educational in a way no other academic situation could be. It leads to deep learning that becomes a part of what an individual understands to be true for these people, and it gives insight into how varied the world is and how opportunities in it are based on the circumstances of someone’s birth.

Before leaving we watched videos and read articles and books to learn what we could about the situation at the Reservation. We volunteered on the Reservation. After we left we discussed it and synthesized what we learned. The synthesis is important to learning. The synthesis, by the way, purposefully took place in Custer State Park, more on that at the end.

In structuring this I will tell you what we did each day. If we listened to somebody speak, I will include the notes I took from that talk. It is second nature to me to pull out a piece of paper and a pen when someone is talking. I learned a long time ago that even though I think I will remember later, I don’t. I am leaving my notes in a similar fashion to how they are written. At the end, I will share with you an essay Sean and I wrote. Much of the text in it comes from the Sean. I did prompt him occasionally. I am including this essay so that you can get a feel for how this experience profoundly moved my teen, and how I used the experience to help him think through and articulate what he experienced. I also used the experiences from this week to help him make connections to the world as a whole. I didn’t want him to think what he saw was just occurring locally on the Reservation, and I wanted him to come to an understanding of how federal, state, and local laws and policies, many of which are often voted on, can affect people now and in the future. For Sean, this was also part of his year spent focusing on politics.

Day 1 – 8/15/2015: Check in at Re-member

We woke up very early and spent most of the day driving. We passed through the states of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska before taking a left and driving up into the southern end of South Dakota. The Pine Ridge Reservation is close to the border of South Dakota and Nebraska. You pass through the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska before driving into South Dakota. Whiteclay is a small, dusty town with people sitting outside of the grocery store and liquor store either drinking or passed out. Here is a link to the documentary, Battle for Whiteclay, which was made about the situation there,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDAdhOxuTwk.

Late in the afternoon, we arrived at Re-member, which is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation.


This is a view from the area where we stayed. There was a good-sized group of us staying here. I didn’t count, but I think there were 50 or 60 volunteers.

Re-memberThis is the common room. There is also a dining room and a girls’ sleeping area with bunk beds and a boys’ sleeping area. It was reasonably comfortable, and the food was pretty good. I had to go vegetarian for the week. Soon after arriving we were divided into groups of four or five. Each member of our group was separated into a different group. This was the group we would work with, including doing chores together. It is a good idea to divide family groups up. It leads to more mingling and interaction among the strangers who were volunteering together. My group was assigned kitchen duty shortly after we arrived, and it was off to the kitchen for me.


Day 2 – 8/16/2015: The Sanctuary, Wounded Knee, Red Feather, Keith Janis

The first day of our stay was spent learning some of the history, visiting the Badlands, and listening to Keith Janis speak.

Re-memberMost of our group visited the Badlands. The Badlands are an excellent example of how erosion and deposition can shape a landscape. Looking at this photo you can see the sedimentary layers in the rock.


This is a fossilized turtle shell


This area is called The Sanctuary. The entire group laid or sat down to meditate with the purpose of connecting with the land. It was a wonderful way to start. I happened to lie down next to ant hill. The ants began to crawl on but never bit me. They tickled.


This little frog hopped by.


This is where the Wounded Knee Massacre occurred.


We listen to a talk about the Wounded Knee Massacre. I am sorry to tell you I cannot find the speaker’s name anywhere in my notes. It was very different from the lesson learned in school, unless you count Sophia and Sean, who are both homeschooled. This is the first week of 10th grade for them. Here is a link I found online about the history, http://www.lastoftheindependents.com/wounded.htm. The massacre was thought to have occurred as a retaliation for a defeat Custer had experienced many years before. It was brutal, bloody, and senseless. If you wonder, as I think some people do, why the people living on the Reservation are still focused on these tragic incidents, then you have most likely never been to the Reservation. The treatment of Sitting Bull and his followers was indicative of things to come. It is hard to describe with only words and pictures what we saw and heard over the next few days.


Across the road from the site of the massacre is a cemetery.


The people killed in the massacre were buried in a mass burial site piled on top of each other. There have been others buried here as well, including ancestors of survivors of the massacre.


This is a list of some of the acts of genocide committed against the Native Americans.

Notes from Talk by Keith Janis: Keith was really broken up about the recent epidemics of suicides.

  • The tribes that form the great Sioux nation are the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, and Wajajo – the great Sioux nation was made up of nomadic tribes that followed the Buffalo.
  • The Lakota’s ancestral heartland was the Black Hills. The Black Hills were taken from them, because gold was discovered there.
  • To this day, based on the Indian Termination Treaty, Native Americans are still considered prisoners of war, which make Reservations prisoner of war camps. The Reservation was a prison designed to get rid of the Indian problem. This is what led to the Battle of Little Big Horn.
  • The Sioux Nation calls their homeland Turtle Island.
  • Crazy Horse, Bigfoot, and Sitting Bull were all assassinated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In addition to killing these leaders, legislators at about that time instituted a policy of killing Buffalo to starve Sioux Indians. At the same time it was illegal for Native Americans to be off the Reservation. The penalty for native people who were caught off the Reservation was beheading. People could earn three dollars per Lakota who was killed. (Cormac McCarthy wrote a heart-wrenching and superior work of historical fiction called Blood Meridian focused on this issue.)
  • There were few buffalo left, and on the Reservations people were starving with only mice to eat. At this point, they started the Ghost Dance, which was a spiritual movement designed to bring back the Buffalo Nation. This was led by a person claiming to be a prophet who received some support. It was not unilateral support. As the great Sioux nation was a large group of people from many different tribal groups with many different allegiances, they did not all follow or agree on one path.
  • The annual household income today on the Reservation is $5500. There is a high rate of diabetes, a high rate of infant mortality, and a high rate of youth suicide. In fact there had been three youth suicides in the past days, with the president of the tribe calling for a state of emergency. Along with the suicides, there is an increased rate of alcoholism and an increased level of poverty, all caused by historical trauma that to this day is unacknowledged by most of the community in the United States.
  • The organization Re-member at 17 years old is the longest operating NGO on Pine Ridge.
  • Can you imagine your daughter at 18 years old committing suicide instead of going to college with her 3 best friends? Our first speaker lost his 12-year-old granddaughter to suicide. Most of the people committing suicide are little girls. Something has to be done about these little girls thinking they don’t want to live this life.
  • Historical trauma were things like forced sterilization, smallpox infected blankets, Gatling guns being used on unarmed people, children taken away to institutions where they were raped and purposefully separated from their culture. Even today the academic standards in reservation schools teach children history about the founding fathers, and the freedom and rights given to all Americans. This is untrue. Not all people experience the same rights and freedom or have the same opportunities.
  • Between 1/15 and 8/15 there were 29 suicides committed by children on Pine Ridge. It is only one reservation. Over 140 children on seven reservations committed suicide during this time, and there were another 450 children who attempted to commit suicide but were saved through immediate intervention. This is in a state with slightly more than 1 million people.
  • 28,000 children on reservations have committed suicide in 10 years. If these children were white it would be considered a national epidemic.
  • Michelle Obama tried to address the epidemic of youth suicide saying the Spirit is not broken, but not much else has happened to address the issue.
  • As you look around the Lakota Reservation you realize not much has changed. There are people without houses and no running water in trailers. It has become difficult to move off the Reservation or improve their houses even today, because banks will not give native people loans.
  • While we were there a nine-year-old committed suicide. Can you imagine a nine-year-old not wanting to live any longer? It is heart-breaking.
  • It wasn’t until 1973 that the boarding school era ended. This was the forced institutionalization of children. At the boarding schools speaking a language other than English or running away were severely punished. (There would be more on the boarding schools in a couple days. I will go into more details then.) Rape from staff members was common for both males and females. This brutal treatment led to the formation of AIM = the American Indian Movement, which started at Wounded Knee to walk on Washington.
  • The government killed 90 Native Americans, AIM members, in the early 1970s.
  • This bitterness and isolation leads to teen suicides.
  • People with European ancestors are not confined to the Reservation –> everything other Americans have is from the displacement of indigenous people –> the work available to Native Americans is shoddy. Shabby and desolate areas were chosen for reservations in locations designed to fail, while prime locations were taken from them –> this was done with malicious intent in an effort to disenfranchise and disempower people who could not fix the system.

Day 3 – 8/17/2015: Blair skirting trailers, Will Peters

Today was a work day. Re-member has several projects going at the same time. The small group I was in went to fix the skirting on a trailer. We did work with other groups sometimes.


The trailer was in bad condition. I learned these are FEMA trailers built for people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There is a huge difference between weather conditions in New Orleans, Louisiana and Pine Ridge, South Dakota. When I looked under the trailer there was water dripping. Most people do not have running water to their trailer. It is considered a luxury. There is a problem using plumbing designed to work in New Orleans in Pine Ridge. The plumbing isn’t design to withstand the successive freezing and warming the plumbing experiences during the winter in Pine Ridge. So the water going to the trailers leak, a lot. If you’re wondering what the people who have no running water do, the water is delivered to them. We would consider the amount of water to be a small amount, 28 gallons a week. It is supposed to be delivered regularly, but the delivery is sporadic. For those people who do have running water, that is problematic as well. The government of South Dakota allowed a uranium mine to be built at the headwaters of the river that runs through the Reservation. Uranium mining releases toxic, carcinogenic pollutants into the water. The whole situation is a mess. Can you even imagine in the year 2015 living in a structure with your family, your children, that has either no running water or water known to be toxic? You begin to get a sense for how and why this community, and especially the children in them, could feel that this country and its citizens don’t care what happens to them. (After Flint, I guess so. I wonder how many communities have similar crises.)

Notes from Talk by Will Peters: Will, a high school teacher, talked about Lakota ways. He directed most of the talk to the teens, close to half the group. They appreciated how he directly reached out to them. Will also brought along his grandson.

  • Pine Ridge is known to be the poorest community in the United States. If you wonder what community is the second poorest, don’t. Poor is poor. It doesn’t matter if you’re the first poorest, second poorest, or third poorest, who cares. For native people humor keeps them from poverty’s despair. Will said he worries about the women, the kids, the elders. People ask why these groups, and not just native people, but why poor people are not more involved in politics and ideologies. Why don’t they vote? Why don’t the poor work to change people’s ideas and their minds? Because nobody’s got time for these things. The day-to-day struggle when you don’t have enough to eat, when you can’t take care of your family, is all you have time for.
  • And for poor people and First People trust is hard, because there have been so many people, politicians, missionaries – all of these people came to the Reservation and made money and careers, and then left without fulfilling their promises. This becomes a problem for those people who show up and do want to change things and are sincere with their promises. There has been such an erosion of trust, it doesn’t feel worth it. It feels like it isn’t worth investing that trust in someone else.
  • Child suicide on the Reservation has been back to back – one was a student who was still in elementary school – then there were six more suicides soon after. Part of the problem is that we need to listen to the kids; let them tell us what happened to them. In the face of all the poverty, suicide is the new way kids are dealing with the hopelessness of their situation. The best way for suicide prevention is that we listen, show the love, and show our capacity to care.
  • Will pointed out that a teacher is nothing without students.
  • Once the entire North American continent was called Turtle Island by the Lakota’s.
  • Will discussed the Keystone XL pipeline. This came up several times while we were on the Reservation, with many native people saying they were willing to stand up and protest it being brought over/through native lands, and they were willing to die to stop it if need be. The Lakota we heard from felt that the Keystone XL pipeline being built across the Reservation would have been akin to more taking of their land by the government for corporate interests who care only about money and not about the people. One of the things we learned about the Keystone pipeline is that everything needed for it had already been built. The holdup for the Keystone pipeline being completed and operational is the 300 miles the pipeline needs to run through tribal lands. The United States government cannot just build a pipeline across native lands, although at that time it looked like they might. It is possible the fight is what kept it from being completed. The Keystone XL pipeline is another example, along with guns, the liquor industry, and energy drinks with alcohol in them, all of this is about the money. It has nothing to do with caring about the people. It isn’t just an indication the federal, state, and local governments and businesses don’t care about native people. It is an indication they don’t care about any people.
  • We need to be honest with our kids and stop the racism, classism, sexism, and bullying. This is important for all young people, not just those who are poor. It is time for a war on poverty, illiteracy, and -isms. We need to eliminate sexism. Forget burning bras we should be burning men’s underwear, and let them see what it’s like to go without support. We need to teach young people to dream without fear. To teach them they can believe in their dreams and walk inside their dreams, that their dreams can honestly come true for them. Adults should view young people as sacred beings. The human race needs to stop destroying itself and this planet. We need the sacred beings to save it. Poverty causes people to tear each other down instead of supporting each other. The young people, the sacred beings, need to come together and support each other. There needs to be a change in the dialogue from suicide to talking about a reason to live. Adults need to advocate for these sacred beings with the purpose of supporting them and their dreams. We need to focus on giving them a reason to live. One of the biggest problems when we do not raise our children to believe in dreams and to fight for what is right and against injustice is that these young people become old people without having any concept about the quality of their life. They spent their entire life just thinking about surviving. This is called historical trauma.
  • When Will introduced his wife he said something I love. He called his wife, “the other side of me,” and said he thinks of her like that because the two of them have been walking side-by-side together for many years.

Here is a short documentary Will is featured in, Dream without Fear,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mlYIZpy1m0.

Here are some songs of his, http://walkthelinemusic.com/music/lakota-will-peters-memorial-song/.

Here is an article about the Nammy award he won, http://www.lakotacountrytimes.com/news/2009-10-06/Front_Page/2009_NAMMY_for_Reservation_Nights.html.

Day 4 – 8/18/2015: Blair building outhouses and bunk beds, Larry Powers

Our tools

On the property with our dorm there were several shops. On this day I had the pleasure of working with Jerry. At each project there are one or more employees who are in charge. Jerry is in charge of the shop. We spent the day building bunk beds and the frames for outhouses. These are in high demand. You might wonder why. I did, so I peppered Jerry with questions about the project. The list below is what I learned.

Our tools
  • Bunk beds: People sleeping in bath tubs. 8 year old children who have never had a bed to sleep in. Paralyzed woman sleeping on the floor with teens as the only people to help her. Jerry met a woman who had lived in a house for 40 years, living on 300$ a month to pay for rent and heat, one of these bunk beds was the first bed she had slept on in her life.
Sanding the posts used for the bunk beds. Jerry is adamant, the woods pieces used for the bunk beds are smooth, so there are no splinters for the people using them.
  • Outhouses: There are water table issues, and problems with the plumbing at trailers. Most trailers are not insulated. Something I observed when I worked on skirting the trailer. Trailers built by FEMA for Katrina then sent to this extreme environment – electric not gas. What if you can’t pay your electrical bill? They turn the electric off, even in sub-zero temperatures, and pipes burst inside the house/trailer. Donated trailers in substandard conditions.


  • Uranium mine at the headwaters above the Reservation – arsenic -radon. This is the tribe’s water source. Those communities that do have water, have  high rates of cancers associated with radiation poisoning.


There is a documentary about this, http://www.cryingearthriseup.com/ and an article http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/03/03/its-mother-earth-vs-father-greed-new-pine-ridge-uranium-documentary-159451

  • Ranches and towns outside of the Reservation have non-toxic water available to them. Why? Voting and dollars in these predominantly, white communities.
  • Black mold in basements of houses with people sleeping in them – for a veteran and her children. She came home from Iraq after spending 4 years in the military. She now lives with her children, sleeping on the floor in her mother’s basement.
  • For those with no running water: 28 gallons a week is delivered, but sometimes the delivery is not made, and it is 2 or 3 weeks. Think about how much water you use in a week.
  •  Superfund site on tribal lands? Homeless?
  • Indian Giver means you give something back not take something without sharing.
  • You see trash in piles around the community. It is because there is no trash service and the cost of gas to get to the dump and the fees at the dump are prohibitive for most people.

Notes from Talk by Larry Powers: Larry is a spiritual leader. The bulk of his discussion was about issues related to that. I am sorry I did not take extensive notes on this day. I was feeling rather hopeless on this day. I felt like as much as I care, I could not make a difference, that the problem is too big. After Larry’s talk I sat in the dining room and talked to Jerry. He helped me to process it all, even though much of what he told me was distressing.  It helped to talk about what I was seeing. If you don’t know it, and most don’t, there is another America in the midst of the one many of us live in.


  • Mohammed, Buddha, Jesus, and White Buffalo Calf Woman were all important prophets, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Buffalo_Calf_Woman. Both Larry and Carol who spoke to us the next day made a point of telling us that unlike settlers to America, First Peoples had a female prophet. Both also told us sexism was uncommon among Native Americans before the European settlers came. Many tribes, like the Lakota, had female leaders. The European settlers were not used to dealing with female leaders. Often this led to tribes having a male member of the tribe represent them. These were not experienced leader, and the tribe would not necessarily follow these men. Over the years, however, this did lead to some of the sexist behavior within the tribe today.
  • One of the most damaging policies from European settlers was Manifest Destiny.
  • Larry went into what happened to the AIM movement. If you are interested in this I recommend the documentary Robert Redford made about Leonard Peltier,  http://www.amazon.com/Incident-Oglala-Leonard-Peltier-Story/dp/B0001FVDI2
  • Racism as a synonym for ignorance
  • Who taught you language? Are you fluent? Is there a movement in your community to teach traditions to the young, and if so how effective is it?
  • When you look at First Peoples (and enslaved people) you need to realize there has been a previous condition of servitude. This affects many of the attitudes and actions they take today.

Jerry is also a poet. This is a poem he wrote. a poem of Jerry's

Day 5 – 8/19/2015: Blair and Sophia building a wheelchair ramp, handcrafted goods, Carol Iron Rope Herrera

Some days we worked with only our group, and some days we worked with multiple groups. Loading the trailers on the last work day was the closest my group would come to working with Sean and Michelle.

I never worked with Jim. Today I was assigned to build wheelchair ramps with Sophia.


We got back to the dorms, cleaned up, and then got to work on a meal for people in the community. This was a meal the people in the community are invited to, and the volunteers at Re-member feed to the people who attend. I have no photos of this, because I was tired and busy. I managed to get my energy back in time to spend some money on the handcrafts displayed on the tables.

Here are two of the artisans who made jewelry we bought.

Notes from Talk by Carol Iron Rope Herrera

Our tools

Carol has spent much of her life working to help children and their families. She is an educator and an administrator, and at one time was the coordinator of the Healthy Start program on Pine Ridge. These days she works for the organization she created called the Stoneboy Women’s Society, http://lakotasacredhoopcollaborative.org/. The society teaches traditional Lakota birthing ceremonies to Lakota women. She told us she was working on her Master’s degree. Carol talked to us about the boarding school experience.

  • In native culture when a person’s hair was cut it meant someone died. The first thing that happened when the kids were taken away from their family to the boarding school was that their hair was cut. There was no explanation or attempt to help the children understand this was not because someone close to them had died. Many of these kids did not understand English so they couldn’t understand this was a cultural thing.
  • At the boarding school it was forbidden to cry or speak in the native language.
  • Carol Iron Rope Herrera told the story of an acquaintance or relative, I didn’t write which, who had been taken to the boarding school when she was five years old. The little girl would not stop crying. She was told repeatedly in English to stop crying or she would be punished, but she did not understand English. It was not until sometime later she was told what the intake people had been saying to her. Finally the intake person became so upset with her, the woman cut the tip of her finger off. When this made her cry even more the woman cut another tip of her finger off. Many times we were reminded of the historical trauma.
  • One of the most disturbing things we learned was that even today kids on reservations are forced to learn history that glorifies the Christian faith. The people running these boarding schools were part of the Christian faith and the Europeans who came to the New World and set up a government that would do these sorts of things. If this sounds like these things were happening a long time ago, remember it wasn’t until the mid-70s the boarding school era ended. That’s not 1870 that is 1970s. The boarding schools destroyed the human knowledge and the methodology of how to raise a family. 25% of all people committed suicide while they were inside the boarding school; another 25% committed suicide once they were out; 60% of all people in the boarding school were raped. We heard a lot about the girls and females being raped, and I specifically asked about boys being raped. You hear less about it because of increased feelings of shame, but if 60% of all people in the boarding school were raped, it seems rape must have been common for boys taken to the boarding school. My guess is 60% is a low number since the rape of boys tends to go under-reported. At the age of 18, people were let out of the boarding school and expected to raise kids and live in a happy, well-adjusted family. They didn’t grow up in a family. They didn’t grow up watching parents do a good job taking care of their children. They didn’t learn these types of skills. It is unfair to expect a population of people forced into this situation to, as an entire group, have the skills needed to raise their children. They do not have the cultural competence needed.
  • One of the things that happened in the boarding school was that name changes were forced on Native Americans. These name changes have done native culture, history, and people a great disservice.
  • Things have improved but they have so far to go it can be hard to see. Especially if you’re only at the Reservation for a week as we were.
  • A movie depicting what was done to Native Americans, that Carol thinks does a good job of it, is Soldier Blue. I remembered seeing it when I was about Sean’s age with my mother.
  • Time and life are not linear; the past, present, and future is circular. Is important to understand equality is also circular.

8/20/2015 Day 6: Field Trip, Black Elk’s Cabin

On the last day we went on another field trip. We started by with a tour of the Reservation. These are the notes from the guided tour. We had lunch at a lunch spot run by an ancestor of Black Elk, called Betty’s Kitchen. Several of us then hiked down to Black Elk’s Cabin. After we packed and got ready to leave in the morning for the rest of our journey.

the landscape.jpg

  • Red wheat, sunflower, safflower are the 3 main crops on the Reservation. Who benefits from this? Not the people on the Reservation.
  • Two years ago they finally lit path to boys and girls club. Thirty years ago they lit the road to Whiteclay where alcohol is sold.
  • The hospital was built, but without a call system and telephones.
  • Invasive mold: There were 800 documented cases before HUD told them to quit counting, or HUD would quit giving funding.
  • Only 1 supermarket on the Reservation for 90 miles. The tribe owns the land the grocery is on, but it is leased to a company out of Iowa. After a salmonella outbreak on the Reservation, it was learned the grocery store chain was taking expired meat from stores in Nebraska, repackaging it, and selling it here as freshly processed meat.


The store is in the middle of the photo with the yellow truck at it.

  • Man from CA donated 50$K to build the skateboard park.


  • Every reservation has a college center.
  • 99% children receive free lunch at school.
  • Pine Ridge Jim Thorpe
  • I asked our guide if the historical trauma associated with modern schools using dorms left over from boarding schools was addressed. The answer was no. How would adults who had been in the system feel when dropping kids off at these schools!


That is an old boarding school in the background. It is still used as a part of the school.

  • Mills – gold medal winner
  • Katrina FEMA trailers have formaldehyde in them.
  • 89% unemployment – small business loans are hard to get.
  • Carlyle boarding school, Chief Red Cloud wanted to form his own school on the Reservation – each reservation was assigned a faith this reservation was Episcopalian. Katherine Drexel, daughter of a devout Episcopalian Philadelphia philanthropist, worked with the Chief to make it happen. It is now the best school on the Reservation academically .
  • 60 % local teachers – 95 % are native – 98% grad rate – 94% to college – other 6% to military or workforce ~ Bill and Melinda Gates scholars – Admissions test at Red Cloud – 600 students total 200 at each level. 50 – 70 % graduation rate at other schools.

The church below is across the street from the school, and these are our wonderful guides, home for the summer from Stanford. The church was lovely, but I couldn’t stay in it. After everything we heard and witnessed, and then to see the most beautiful building on the Reservation a church. It all felt like the worst sort of hypocrisy to stand in this church and discuss its beauty. Too much was stolen from these people in the name of religion, progress, and democracy for me to appreciate it at all.

  • Custer told the Lakota they had to go to their reservation, but they were already at their reservation.
  • Bobbi Red Cloud, great granddaughter to Chief Red Cloud, at the Red Cloud Monument (that’s our bus in the bottom photo)
  • Bettie’s Kitchen where Black Elk Speaks was transcribed and spoken., http://www.amazon.com/Black-Elk-Speaks-Premier-Edition/dp/1438425406.
  • Manderson is a town where the hill is moving, so the windows cannot have screens on them, because the houses are becoming tweaked.


  • Timpsula: “Timpsula was probably the most important wild food gathered by Native Americans who lived on the prairies.  In 1805 the Lewis and Clark expedition observed plains Indians collecting, peeling, and frying it.”  http://www.manataka.org/page827.html


  • These were in a museum that is down from the college.

We spent the evening saying our goodbyes. Michelle and I are saying goodbye to Paula Sibel, the trip coordinator at Re-Member.

8/21/2016: Depart Pine Ridge, Custer State Park: The Synthesis

When originally planning this trip, we intended to leave Re-member and drive to North Dakota to see some of Jim’s relatives or head right away toward Yellowstone. During the week I realized we were going to need some time to process what we experienced and saw at Pine Ridge. I did not spare us when I chose a location. We drove to Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I wanted all of us to see firsthand what had been lost. These are the Oglala Sioux’ ancestral lands that the Supreme Court agreed were wrongfully taken from them in their 1980 decision of the case the United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians. The Sioux tribes were “compensated” the paltry sum of 102 million dollars. I say paltry because now that I have been there, I know the land taken from them is stunningly beautiful, rich with resources, and verdant. Something the Reservation land the tribes were granted are not. 102 million dollars is not enough for this land. That is beside the point however, because the tribes won’t take the money and it has sat in an escrow account since. The tribe will not cash the “check” even though they could obviously use the money. This is a serious matter of principle for the tribe. The land was never for sale, and they feel if they take the money it will be tantamount to a sales transaction. What they want is the Black Hills back. After visiting them I understand why. This is a part of the Lakota’s historical trauma. The Black Hills that were taken from them need to be viewed in this context. That is what the four of us did.

For much of the year leading up to this trip we had been hearing the term white privilege. We had been hearing it said by some that all white Americans are inherently racist because of this privilege. Sean and I had read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates. The book resonated with two of us. On the Reservation white privilege, and what it means for people who don’t have it, was everywhere.

Sean’s Processing

I think the real problem is ignorance, indifference, and greed. I think these three things have led to the situation on Pine Ridge. It is impossible to deal with greed. There is nothing to be done about people who choose not to care about others and who take advantage of them for money.  The people motivated by greed look at other people as opportunities for becoming richer. They don’t care about helping people or doing the right thing, so they won’t change. If doing racist things helps them get what they want, they will do them. If using racism gets other people to give them what they want, they will use it.

I think part of the reason people are indifferent to these problems with racism is they feel they are the ones being blamed. They feel things like, “I didn’t kill Native Americans or make them impoverished.” The reason this works so well is because it is true. I believe the best way to get people to think about these issues is not to tell them the horrible things “white people” did, but to make them think about the horrible conditions Native Americans live in now and the fact that they could be helping.

I think all these problems are not of a single man but that of our culture. Our educational system teaches us lies about Native Americans. Many people are raised to care more about others inside of their social group. The problem is when we care about our social group and not all humans we give benefits to our group and are indifferent to people in other groups. When people are indifferent because they only care about others like themselves, their indifference is a big part of racism. In order to fix these problems we need a generation of different thinkers, thinkers who refuse to be indifferent about the plight of others.

There need to be politicians who legitimately care about the issues of the Native people. I left feeling that most politicians do not care about Native Americans, life on the Reservation, and the issues they are dealing with. I don’t believe these politicians are ignorant, so it has to be indifference and greed which translates into racist attitudes and policies.

The one thing, besides vote, we can do something about is ignorance. We can reach out to people who don’t know about this situation and hope by doing this people will start to care. I think there are a lot of people who don’t understand how bad it is for some Native Americans on reservations. It is important  we start to educate people with the truth and not lies so they will no longer be ignorant about Native Americans and what life is like on reservations like Pine Ridge.

Sean Lee, Age 15

In the summer of 2016 my family will return to the Reservation and continue our education.

Check out our previous post on handcrafting high school here.

Handcrafting High School: Year 2, Month 1, Dinosaur National Park

Handcrafting High School: Year 2, Month 1

The first month of tenth grade might have been the best month we ever spent homeschooling. You might be thinking, “Well, Yeah! You were traveling and hanging out. How could that not be great?” 🙂 That is true, of course, but it was more than that. The planning and intent for this trip focused on enriched learning. The choices for where we stayed and what we did were planned with the intent that what we studied on the road would enrich our understanding of a situation in science, culture, and/or history. We were not disappointed.

I am behind in my writing so I can tell you from perspective, that this year is the best example of what I mean by the statement that for our homeschool the method we use is the one that works. The factors that go into deciding the method or mix of them are

  1. what my son is studying: different subjects require different methodologies.
  2. the best materials and/or programs I can find for the course. Even for subjects I know well, I like to find materials to reference.
  3. how he accesses information while studying the materials for that course of study. This is a mixed bag for him. Sean is a very creative person, and subject areas he considers creative he treats differently than those subjects, like math, that he does not consider creative endeavors.
  4. how I am best able to present that material, in other words, “the best way for me to teach it.” You have probably noticed I usually talk about learning, but I am Sean’s primary teacher, chooser of materials, and chooser of core courses. So, the materials and courses have to work for me too.
  5. and what comes along to be added in while we are engaged in the subject. This is the reason this blog post is late. Really cool opportunities keep coming up.

Each course of study gets its own special treatment. If my son and I think something is important enough to include in his academic journey, then I will work to figure out the best course of study for him for this subject. Sometimes this “best method” is universal for most students, sometimes it is specific to my son or people who access information similar to him, and sometimes what looks like the “best” on the outside does not end up being the best after we get started with it. If what we do sounds good to you I think there are two things to recognize. 1. It is a lot of work to give someone a handcrafted education, and 2. the results are so worth it! Over the years it has been hard to judge this from time to time, but now in tenth grade I am able to see I mostly got it just right.

There is also a big difference between mostly right and all right, when it comes to my relationship with my son’s journey through learning. I think a lot of problems can occur when homeschooling parents assume they have figured out a course that is all right. It is too easy to become attached to paths when that happens. Because I assume with a lot of work, the best I will ever attain is mostly right, I keep working hard to figure out what best is and what it looks like. This results in us adding and discarding parts without getting too attached to them as I continually work to get the journey mostly right. This work is where and when the magic happens.

Because we have already incorporated so many methods into this year’s homeschool journey, I will try to discuss them as I go along. My goal with my 10th grade blog articles will be to focus more on the process we use. I get a lot of people asking me for more information about that aspect of our handcrafted education.

A year or two ago I decided to start tenth grade with a service project, followed by a driving tour studying local history, conservation, and geology, especially geology. Plate tectonics is a core concept of geology, but tectonic plates are so big, it is hard to see how slow moving rocks can lead to the formation of something massive like the Himalayas. I wanted to follow the Pacific Ring of Fire down the West Coast of the U.S. so that Sean could get an idea how large tectonic plates are. Besides, I think the year you study geology and environmental science, you should spend a lot of time outside looking at the subject of your studies. This illustrates the most common learning strategy I use. I will ask Sean to study the basics of a core concept, like plate tectonics, just the basics at this point, nothing intense. Next we learn about those basics in a practical manner, as we did with our driving tour. At that point he is fairly literate about this core concept. Then we will return to our course of study, in this case geology, with an understanding of this core concept. This gives you a place to bring everything together and take learning to a new level. It turned out to be everything I hoped for and more. You might be thinking, but how can I do that. There is no way I can spend 5 weeks on the road. Just remember field trips will work too. 🙂

I am going to write this using photos and short blurbs about where we were and why. I did write a few blog pieces focused on location. I will include those links.

Getting to the Service Project

8/11/2015: We packed up and got ready.

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Our home for 5 weeks.

Five of us left together on our grand adventure. In addition to me, there was my son Sean, his best friend Sophia, my husband Jim, and our good friend Michelle. I love to pack for our adventures. We planned on spending 5 weeks on the road, most of that sleeping in our pop-up trailer. We would sleep in the dorms and eat in the communal dining hall at Re-member, but the rest of the time we would sleep and eat primarily from food we cooked in the pop-up. This would save us a lot of money, but it also made it easier because of the 5 of us, 2 are vegan, 2 are vegetarian, and Michelle, the only meat eater of the bunch, was leaving us after Re-member. Getting vegan food on the road in the U.S. is not easy. It is so much easier to do in other countries!

8/12 near Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Handcrafting high school

We started in Bridgeport, California at 5 in the morning. We packed up the night before so we could start early. We wanted to get on the road early, so we could find ourselves in the middle of nowhere a couple of hours before dark. We planned on waking up at 2 in the morning on 8/13 to watch the Perseid meteor shower, http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2015/11aug_perseids/. It was a long hot drive and everyone was a bit crispy by the time we got to a spot we liked, but it was well worth it. The Perseids did not disappoint. Handcrafting high school

A good place to watch a meteor shower, away from any light pollution.

I wrote a blog post about it, https://seahomeschoolers.com/travels-with-sea-wheres-blair-great-basin-national-park-utah/


Scientists are as likely to be looking down as up, when they on vacation! I love spiders, and ants always make me think of E. O. Wilson!

8/13-8/14 Dinosaur National Monument Park


Our second stop was Dinosaur National Monument Park on the border of Utah and Colorado. It is an amazing testament to the constantly changing landscape of Earth. http://www.nps.gov/dino/index.htm. This link takes you to a blog post about this, https://seahomeschoolers.com/travels-with-sea-wheres-blair-dinosaur-national-monument-park/

Michelle is standing next to a 149 million year old Diplodocus femur, a land-dwelling dinosaur.


The Quarry Exhibit Wall has over 1,500 layered dinosaur bones.



Sean complains, but I still make him go to guided talks with us. Jim complains too sometimes, but they humor me! I tell Sean he may not thank me as a teenager, but he will thank me when he is 30!


Look at the uplift! This area might be quiet now, but it hasn’t always been that way.

Handcrafting high school

Handcrafting high school

There is evidence that these organisms once swam where we are standing now. Inland seas, dinosaurs, volcanic activity, uplift, and now us standing on the ever-changing Earth!

Handcrafting high school

Handcrafting high school

We saw petroglyphs too! Jim, my husband, and I love to hike and hunt out evidence of ancient civilizations. I was glad to see these on our way to Re-member. Too often the history of the North American continent is taught as if it started when Columbus “discovered” America. I wanted there to be a focus throughout this month on how history is interpreted and often distorted.

Handcrafting high school

Handcrafting high school

We went to check out an old homestead before heading back to our campsite. My family is all from Colorado. Many of the summers of my childhood were spent in the town of Eagle, Colorado. This homestead made me nostalgic for those days.

Handcrafting high school

Working on kendama tricks was a major theme of the trip!

Handcrafting high school

Cleaning the dust off in the Green River.

You might be curious about the planning for all this. If it looks like I have everything planned down to the nth, you might be surprised. Most of this is done haphazardly. My son will tell you I am the free-spirited type and often when we travel, figuring things out on the fly, on the road is best. Plans like the when and where for our service project, are figured out well ahead of time, but the rest is not. For example, the plan to go to Dinosaur National Monument Park was figured out two days before we left. I happened to read about it somewhere, none of us had heard of it before, and away we went.

Check out our post on an eclectic and effective approach to foreign language studies 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

peniscola 2

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.

peniscola sand 3


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.

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.

River Rafting in the Pyrenees and an Amazing Dinner


River Rafting in the Pyrenees and an Amazing Dinner

When you travel for an extended period everyone has a low energy moment. Today was my turn. I woke up feeling exhausted. I am usually the most up of the group, but not this morning. Luckily Jim, Sean, and Sophia realized what was going on and got me laughing and moving around in no time.
They were all excited about the day’s adventure. “Mom get up and let’s raft!”    We booked a raft trip with Adventura Raid Sarratillo, www.sarratillo.com, 974-500-725. Javier was booking guided trips. His english was great. (Isn’t it sad how important that was for us.) We booked the trip in Ainsa and drove to Campo to raft. The four of us were in one raft with our Italian guide Mimo. Mimo admitted to Sophia and me that the Spanish cannot seem to make a good Italian red sauce. For some reason it tastes like Campbell’s tomato soup on pasta ;P. With all the high quality vegetables in this country I don’t get it. The red sauce they make could not taste good to anyone older than 5.



Rafting was fun. It was a nice mix of tranquil, work, and excitement. There were quiet stretches and white water rowing and floating.


IMG_0911 IMG_0974 IMG_0976 IMG_0977 IMG_0993

When traveling, like this, we have learned that everyone appreciates the historical, cultural side of things more if we break it up with something different in the middle. When we walked in to the guide shop and Sean saw all the options he wanted to do it all! We limited him to three. It was a family decision what those would be, with Sophia and I opting out of the next days kayaking.

When we returned to Ainsa, we moved to an apartment Javier rents. Javier built two apartments at his house in the small (very small) mountain hamlet of Guaso, about 15 minutes outside of Ainsa, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guaso. Many people in this area have apartments or rooms for rent. Our decision to break things up resulted in our staying at an apartment in the mountains and not the historic town of Ainsa. We were very happy with our choice. Javier calls his house La Cicuarala, http://www.lacicuarala.com/www.lacicuarala.com/Bienvenida.html. It had the most comfortable beds of the entire trip. La Cicuarala is off the grid. It was nice to stay in a house in the mountains  Once again we found a spot that was warm and welcoming. A place that felt representative of an aspect of the area where we were staying. In Barcelona, we stayed in and apartment in the city. In Girona, Casa Cundaro was like stepping back in time. At the Abbaye de Capservy was a respite in the French Countryside. At La Cicuarala, we stayed in a mountain aerie like many of the inhabitants of this region. Guaso is up in the mountains overlooking a valley and across at a series of peaks.


    We asked Javier for a restaurant recommendation. He called the restaurant, explained we wanted dinner sin carne, and that we were American. We went into the town of Ainsa to Restaurate Callizo, http://www.viamichelin.es/web/Restaurante/Ainsa-22330-Callizo-217208-41102. When we arrived we were greeted and then passed off to a waiter who was a native of Great Britain now living in Spain.  


When they started making this Sean and Sophia said, “This is so super cool!”

The meal and experience of dining at Restaurante Callizo is unique. (I must apologize about the dearth of photos. I left my camera at the apartment, and no one else is good about taking photos.) While we were deciding between the Land menu or the Stone menu, we were served a small cocktail made with dry ice served in a cucumber. We were then told we had to choose Land because we did not want meat. The chef was adapting the Land menu to prepare a special meal with no meat for us. Once we chose between these two options there were 4 courses that we had no choice over what we were served. The entire table all needs to choose the same of one of these two. Sean and Jim decided to eat meat, so they chose a meat item for the 5th course and a dessert item for the 6th course. The artistry and creativity of the presentation of the dishes can only be truely appreciated by experiencing them. Here are a few photos of what was served. At the very end a case about the size of a small antique suitcase is brought out. It contains a sweet after dinner drink and little deep fried cake balls with melted chocolate in the center. This meal involves your sense of taste, sight, smell, and hearing. If you have the opportunity, I recommend you try this one of a kind dining experience.

These delicious olives were served 1 to each of us, hanging from the branches of bonsai trees.

These are spun sugar over goat cheese with strawberries lightly around the goat cheese. They are designed to look like parasitic catapillar balls that you see in trees around here. Once the trees get these on them, it kills the tree.

The salad served to Sophia and me. They have the best asparagus in Spain. There was a salsa, saffron, and seaweed salad.

We were too busy eating to take any more photos. Sophia and I had tempura vegetables for our main course and fresh fruit for dessert. Sean and Jim had an entree they loved and with a caramel something for dessert.

The old city of Ainsa is a lovely small historic town set on a hill. It over looks the small modern town of Ainsa, http://www.villadeainsa.com. It is different from Girona, in that it does not feel like it is full of full time inhabitants. It is different than Carcassonne, in that it feels quieter do more accessible. They are all so different a comparison is not fair.

Check out our previous post from Spain here.

Driving through the Pyrenees, The Peace Van Wags Its Tail


Driving through the Pyrenees, The Peace Van Wags Its Tail

We really liked the Abbaye de Capservy, and we loved Odile! It was a wonderful stay. Jim and I took a walk up the road to the lake where you can fish. Then I asked to see the other rooms. I did not want people reading this to think the rooms all had low ceilings, although for us that added to the charm.   

          The last three photos are of an apartment you can rent.

I wanted to take some local wine home for a gift. Odile told me it was made by Lulu from grapes grown on the property. Lulu and his wife live in the house right next to the Abbaye. I had Lulu sign the bottles. Here is a photo of Sophis and me with Lulu. We were sorry to leave Odile. Actually we have been sorry to leave every host of this trip.  All the people we have met have been warm and welcoming. Especially considering my poor French and Spanish are the best in our group. In France I kept getting confused and speaking in Spanish, French, German, and Russian all jumbled together! Gracias, no danke, no spaciba, what is it in French again?    

 We have had small, humorous things happen this trip. One of them was that somehow we turned on the rear windshield wiper 3 days earlier and we could not figure out how to turn it off. It bothered Jim so he pulled it out away from the window. It still moved back and forth. But instead of wiping the window, it wagged in the air behind us as we drove. All of us were disappointed when Sean jumped on the peace donut in the pool and created a small leak in it, because we thought it was very funny to have the word peace in our rear window with our wiper waving. It made us think of a friendly, peaceful dog. We had Sean blow the peace donut up one last time so we could have it in the rear window for today’s drive.   

 Before leaving this area, we had two things to do. We needed to get the sticky soda off our car. 

And we wanted to stop at the lock we had been driving by between Carcasonne and the Abbaye. The lock is on the Canal du Midi. The locks were originally built of wood from 1666 to 1681, during the reign of Louis XIV. Today they are made from metal and mechanically operated by the lock operator. The operator sits in a short, elevated tower above the lock. There are a series of locks spanning 240 km (150 miles) from the Mediterranian to the Atlantic.


     There was a boat going through the lock when we stopped. The series of photos shows how the water level is raised and lowered by opening and closing the successive series of lock gates. The locks are needed to maintain a level of water so that boats can make their way through the canal. Lucky for us Mary from New Jersey was on the boat. She and her husband were traveling with two German couples. They were going to travel 65 miles in a week. She told us that the distance they traveled each day was dependent on timing. The lock operators go to lunch and go home for the night. When this happens you are stuck where you are until an operator returns. Many people who vacation this way take bikes so they can get around when they stop. It reminded Jim of renting a house boat in the U.S. 

                Today would be a long but beautiful drive. We are deciding where to go as we travel from place to place. We have been visiting and learning about historical sites. While researching where to go next, I read about rafting in the Pyrenees. When Jim and the kids heard about that, they were ready for a change of pace and some adventure.

        We stopped briefly in the lovely town of Mirepoix, France. We might have stayed there, but the guys were ready for some adventure! and it was hot. Sophia and Sean had to use another self cleaning toilet. What was I thinking!?! I did not even stick my head in to check one out!

We could have taken a much faster but less scenic route. We chose the scenic road complete with hairpin turns, charming vilłages, and high mountain passes. If you have the time I recommend taking D173 through the Pyrenees.






Once you begin the ascent on the French side of the Pyrenees it is one small, picturesque town after another. The French side is the rainy side, although both sides look like they get more moisture than the eastern side of the Sierras. The Pyrenees run north/south instead of east/west. The Pyrenees divide France and Spain. We drove through a long tunnel at the top of a pass and went from France into Spain.

Whereas the French side of the Pyrenees has charming little hamlets close to the road, the Spanish side has old castles, churches, and villages that you can see in the distance from the road.

Our ultimate destination for the night was Ainsa, Spain. We were tired when we got there! We were given directions to a place to stay. We became turned around and ended up in the small town of Gerbe. It has 50 inhabitants. Thankfully we found a room for the night in Gerbe. Gerbe was about 10 minutes outside of Ainsa. We spent the night in a small B&B that the owner is restoring.

   As you can see they are worried about aquatic snails just like we are in the states. At first glance we thought it might be a warning about ticks. Sophia and I spent some time discussing the morphology of the cartoon drawing and decided it could not be representing a member of class arachnida.


Jim rode a bike around a bit before dinner. We might have stayed longer in Gerbe, but at 12:30 a.m. (00:30) some guests returned from town and rang the door bell to get into the B&B. The ringer for the doorbell was in our bedroom! I didn’t want to deal with that for multiple nights!

Check out the 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.

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.

Last full day in Barcelona, Spain


Last full day in Barcelona, Spain

We woke up late again. Even I didn’t get up early this morning. When I finally woke the kids up before noon they were STARVING!  Even Sophia who almost never eats. Sean commented on the way over that the entire trip the 4 of us are looking for something to eat. LOL, that’s what traveling with a 15 year old boy is like. I get distracted along the way.


Sean need a pastry appetizer to eat on our way to the restaurant.


Sophia’s huge pot of soup!


There is a big soccer game tonight. The Bilbao fans have been celebrating since we got here. The red and white shirt are the Bilbao fans. The red and blue shirts are Barcelona. We learned today that Kate is having a boy, so we bought him a Barcelona team outfit, with Messi’s name on it!   


The kids wanted to go back and nap (so did Jim).We came back and I washed the second load of clothes.They dry the old fashioned way! The photos are on the wall behind where I am hanging clothes out. The kids are napping on the sofa bed together but there are three beds and three bedrooms. There is also a kitchen with all the appliances. The location is 2 and 1/2 blocks away from Gaudi’s La Perdrera. It is in a great location. I originally wanted to stay in the Gothic District. I am glad we didn’t. Every time we have been down there it has been really crowded and noisy. We are in the Modern District (named for all the Gaudi buildings in it). It is a litlle over a km to the Gothic District. Perfect! Here is a link to the apartment, https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/308166.

Our host Carlos.      

La Perdrera by Gaudi. The kids were seriously too hungry to go inside. They woke up from their nap starving AGAIN.

Casa Batillo, this is only about 4 blocks from where we were stayingg

Sean preferred the building next to it, below. He told us he likes symmetry.



Barcellona is a lovely mix of old and new. There are Roman walls with an oldchurch restored with Gaudi’s help alltogether. (Blair, “I will not stop sightseeing to eat, unless you let me get a photo of you two!)


Our table at the restaurant. I thought of Mark Klitsie! I should tellyou it is about 10 p.m.that we are eating dinner. It stays light until 9 p.m.here.  


How much did we like dinner last night? Enough to eat here again on to night.


The owner of our apartment invited us to go listen to his band, Son de la Rambla play. They played traditional cuban music. There were some wonderful dancers at this. It got off to a slowish start because of the big game where Barcelona beat Bilboa 3 to 1. Everyone was watching it. It was the national championship. They play next week for the European cup against Italia. Once the game was over the party began! That is our host in red doing a rap number. It was a wonderful night. We got to sleep about 3 a.m. The band played until 4 a.m. The kids were tired and wanted to leave. I made them promise they would go to see Gaudi in the morning if we did!

Check out my first post from Barcelona here.

Barcelona day 1


May 29
We woke up feeling pretty good. Sean immediately wanted to go deal with tickets to Primavera Sound.


My shoes for the day. I would be back after getting the tickets to the concert. They looked so comfortable when I bought them!

We figured the subway out. Once again I understand the language better than anyone else. Sophia and Jim were both going to brush up onimage

their Spanish, but we are having to wing it on my high school and college Spanish. Jim and I like to take it easy the first couple of days, and then go like the wind the rest. When we got in the train we all were a bit grumbly and it was then I realized we were not quite as alive as we felt upon waking. (Dropping grumbly teens off in a foreign country at one of the largest music festivals with about 110 rules to follow seemed good in some ways and worrisome in others.)

At Primavera Sound
At Primavera Sound

There was tight security and the crowd looked nice. There were people from all over the world, judging from the accents we heard & many groups looked about the age of our kids. They did make Jim pay for a ticket and take the

Needed for entrance to Primavera Sound
Needed for entrance to Primavera Sound

kids in, but Sophia’s ticket was free so it worked out to what we expected in the first place.

With the kids deposited, Jim and I went back to the apartment, washed a load of clothes, and went to the Gothic District. The Gothic District is the old part of Barcelona built by the Romans. It has the narrow streets, cobbled walkways, twisty turns, and old buildings I love to see. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_Quarter,_Barcelona


The lovely church spire was designed by Gaudi (more on him tomorrow).

Here is a photo of Roman ruins that are being excavated.


I am a vegan and a foodie. Before becoming a vegan, it was hard for me to figure out what restaurants we were going to go to. Now I have many fewer to choose from, so it is easier. We went to a superb!!! restaurant last night. I am known among my friends and family for my healthy eating. I cannot get too far off my diet when we travel if I want to feel good. I have found that none of us feel good after 1 week if we eat too differently. So we stick as close as we can to what we eat at home.


Barcelona is a good city to be getting over jet lag. It stays open late and doesn’t get started early. Every one but me woke after noon, and we are staying up until the early hours of the morning.  The time in Barcelona is 9 hours off that in California.

Eating with the kids at 1:30 a.m.
Eating with the kids at 1:30 a.m.

Check out my post on the way from San Diego to Barcelona here.

On the way to Barcelona

On the way to Barcelona

At the airport in San Diego: May 27

It takes a long time to get from the West Coast of the U.S. to Barcelona. We left in the evening of the 27th from San Diego, flew to San Francisco, next stop Frankfurt (I love Germany!), and finally we arrive in Barcelona in the evening of the 28th. I plan on sleeping most of the way! Hopefully… Sean will probably watch movies the entire way.

This trip we are taking, Sophia, a friend of ours with us. We have asked friends of Sean’s if they want to go on trip with us before, but Sophia is the first to say, “Sure, I am okay being away from my family for almost 4 weeks.” It probably helps that she and I are super close! I had to borrow someone else’s daughter to have one to travel with us. Good thing I have 2 granddaughters!


Sophia and I are dressed in black in super comfie clothes. No makeup either. The photos will of Spain in a day!

Made it to San Fransisco with no problems. There was a problem with engine 4 on the plane leaving for Frankfurt. We left 3 hours late from San Francisco, but we made it safely which is what really counts. I won’t bore you with the details, but that delay made us late for our connecting flight to Barcelona. The new flight we were put on was delayed… 24 hours later.

Good things Barcelona is a late night city! 😉

It is 2:42 a.m. in Barcelona. We walked around a bit, but Sean wanted to come back so he could sleep.. Sophia probably would have walked more, but she was too nice to tell Sean that. I would have walked much longer, but I Jim was ready to sleep too. Wait until you see photos of where we are staying. I found it on Aire B&B.

P.S. Typos will happen in my travel blog. I just don’t want to take the time to put every comma where it belongs. I am sorry if that bothers you. 🙂

Check out my previous post about our trip here.

The Friendly American


The Friendly American

When I travel, I have one trait that identifies me right away as an American. I am the friendly type. Americans are known for being friendly when we travel, and we are known for looking at the world as if everything is amazing and awesome! Even for an American, I can be alarmingly sunny and friendly. And I am sorry if it offends, but I do think the world is a superlative place. I am also extremely extroverted. I can’t help it. It just bubbles out of me most of the time. My personality is like opening a bottle of warm soda on a hot day. Try as you might to prevent it, the soda bubbles out of the bottle and onto the counter and floor when you open it.

How well this is received depends on the country. One of the reasons I like India so much is that by and large the people are as friendly as I am. They’re not quite as in-your-face about it though. If you are an observer, and I am, I sometimes see people cringe a bit as I smile hugely and start speaking with enthusiasm. When this happens I thoughtfully tone it down. I am a visitor to their country after all. I wonder if people who are bothered by this trait in American travelers assume it is provincial and quaint. This trait isn’t quaint or provincial though. I was born the sunny type; it’s just my nature. I have been through a lot in my life, and I have resolutely decided to be happy and embrace life. The teachings of Victor Frankel, who was not an American, had a big impact on how I approach life. You cannot have one second of it back, so you might as well enjoy those seconds.

As the Dalai Lama said, when asked what surprised him about humanity the most:

“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Any time you can quote the Dalai Lama to support your point, you know you’re on the right track ;-). Like the Dalai Lama I work to live in the present and enjoy it while I am living in it.

Actually I am leaving out the other trait that quickly sets us apart as Americans. We tip. Americans do not realize what a rarity this trait is until they travel outside the United States. It is the reason that despite our offensively, overt sunniness other cultures are welcoming to us. It sounds a little strange, doesn’t it? It is as if Americans are bribing other cultures to allow us to visit, learn about them, and be as friendly as we want while we do it. My favorite word for this is baksheesh, which is defined as a small sum of money given as alms, a tip, or bribe. It covers all the possibilities.

You can look for me in Spain in three weeks. I’ll be the one giving baksheesh to waiters with a smile on my face :-).

Check out my next post about our trip here and check out our post from Peru here.