Making time for the outdoors


Bridalveil Falls in Yosemite – the falls are really going this time of year! Photo taken by my husband Charles Guest of

We’ve always felt it very important that our children spend plenty of time outdoors. There is nothing that puts life into perspective as a walk through the woods next to a whispering stream or the roar of a waterfall. Spending time outdoors not only educates, it also refreshes. It helps us celebrate the magnificent world created just for us and allows us to view God’s handiwork up close.

Romans 1:20 – For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…

When is the last time you made time to take your children somewhere other than your backyard? Get involved in some Outdoor challenges! Getting kids to love natures is something that must be cultivated and taught starting when they are young. Don’t forget your littlest ones too…often we forgot that adventures must be “retaken” for their sakes. Siblings may remember your last nature outing, but how about your youngest? 😉

Below are pictures from our recent trip to Yosemite. We are really blessed to live as close as we do to this beautiful park. It was the perfect setting to go over some of the things we recently learned in Otter’s botany curriculum! I kept pointing things out like the male and female pine cones, spores on the underneath of a fern, etc. That’s one thing I love about homeschooling, learning is just a part of life and not something that must always take place in a classroom.

I think our last visit’s theme was falls, falls and more falls. The waterfalls were really full (and breathtakingly beautiful) from snow runoff. The Merced River was also really full and there were unnamed trickles of water in places you won’t see anymore as soon as summer gets into full swing.


Yosemite Falls exploding with snow runoff – Photo taken by my husband Charles Guest of

Here’s another view of the falls. We walked to a bridge near the bottom and were blasted with spray & mist. It felt great after our 8 1/2 mile hike!

Top of Yosemite Falls

Photo taken by my husband Charles Guest of

We first explored Bridalveil Falls and then decided to walk to the Visitor Center in Yosemite Valley. Emily and Otter stand next to a sign showing how far we hiked from Bridalveil. Just 2 and a half more miles or so to get to our destination!


Photo taken by my husband Charles Guest of

A map below shows our highlighted route. All I can say is that blisters aren’t fun and Yosemite water from the water fountain tastes really good, especially after 8 1/2 miles. 😉 Oh, and I’m out of shape. But I can still make it. Barely. LOL…


Along the way we saw a multitude of interesting birds, butterflies, some deer with a fawn and even a snake!


A fawn grazes on some grass in the valley.
Photo taken by my husband Charles Guest of

I literally almost stepped on this. I can not only hike, I can JUMP!


Photo taken by my husband Charles Guest of


We remembered the following rhyme and knew he (probably) wasn’t poisonous:

“Red and black is a friend of Jack. Red and Yellow is a deadly fellow.”

As you can see, with this snake, red is touching black. That makes him a harmless milk snake. I hope. LOL. He really was a pretty little snake. Not even scary, except that half second when I almost stepped on him.

Half Dome seen through the trees:


Photo taken by my husband Charles Guest of


The Dogwood trees were blossoming:


Photo taken by my husband Charles Guest of


The Merced River rushing over moss covered rocks:


Photo taken by my husband Charles Guest of

It was a lovely trip!

Get your kids away from the T.V. and computer and out in some trees or grass or water or something! A lot of outdoor adventures are free and they are often just a little drive away.
🙂 It’s good for them and it’s good for you!

Our Trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Homeschool crowd listening to a presentation at the Open Sea Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Every year, Monterey Bay Aquarium has a set of FREE homeschool days. These days sell out really quickly, so if you are in CA and are interested, I recommend getting on the email list to be notified of the next sign-up period which will probably be in August. We were able to get 3 adult tickets as well as a ticket for Otter for this year. The 4 tickets we received for free were the equivalent of $136, so these homeschool days are quite a treat that normally wouldn’t be in our budget. The extra adult tickets are great if you have a grandparent or older “grown up” sibling who’d like to come along!

During these special days, the aquarium opens up their Discovery Lab classroom with drop-in activities, touch tanks, crafts and plenty of docents on hand to explain and teach a variety of information on sea creatures and the ocean. It’s a beautiful aquarium with a huge variety of exhibits that takes a good 3-5 hours to walk through. Each year there is usually some sort of new or rotating exhibit so there is alway something “fresh” to see, even though we’ve been many times.

If you aren’t in CA or local to Monterey, I highly encourage you to contact your local museums and other similar venues to see if they have a program like this or free/reduced days. We’ve always considered activities like this an important component of our homeschool, rich with opportunities to see and learn new things!

Here are some pictures from our recent visit.

We love the jellyfish exhibits! They are so beautiful…




The Open Sea exhibit features a HUGE tank full of different types of fish and sharks. The glittering schools of sardines are mesmerizing.



The kelp forest features a multi-story aquarium with living strands of kelp. All sorts of fish glide among the kelp. There are benches where you can sit, relax and watch the fish. The picture doesn’t even do this exhibit justice. It’s HUGE.


This year there was a seahorse exhibit. The variety of seahorses is amazing. This one is called a leafy sea dragon.


In the Discovery Lab classroom (my dream science lab!!!) we were able to investigate all sorts of interesting things like a stuffed sea otter (you can’t believe how soft and thick their fur is), touch tanks, etc. Younger children were busy with crafts and other fun activities. Volunteers were on hand to instruct and answer questions. In the picture below, Bob is teaching us about some of the animals. Afterwards, Otter fed a sea anemone some kelp.


The aquarium also has a lovely aviary with all sorts of rescued seashore birds. They are quite tame and you can stand within just a couple of feet. Near the aviary there is also a shallow pool where you can touch manta rays. In another area there is a small colony of penguins where you can watch them both above and below the water.


Otter and I touched sea cucumbers, anemones, starfish and other creatures in a touch tank:


Some of the fish seem just as curious about us as we are of them as they swim by. This fish paused and stared at me for awhile. I think he’s a dolphinfish.


After visiting the aquarium we walked up and down Cannery Row to visit antique stores, sample some clam chowder and peek into the shops. We wrapped up the day with a very special dinner at a local restaurant that had  floor to ceiling windows overlooking the bay where we could see wild sea otters playing in nearby kelp beds. We had a great time!

Cannery Row


We took the kids to Yosemite recently. Here are a few pictures from our visit.

The Merced River tumbling over rocks: (I was so pleased when my husband taught me how to use shutter speed to achieve that silky slow-mo water look!!):


Emily’s boots in the icy snow:


The lower half of Yosemite Falls:

Yosemite falls

A view of the top portion of Yosemite Falls:

Yosemite Falls

A cliff near Yosemite Falls shrouded in mist:


Nature Study at the Wildlife Refuge

Fall has FINALLY hit our area. We went in just a few days from 101 degree temps down to the 70’s. Ahhhhhhhhh. Our family likes to watch the seasons change at the local wildlife refuge.

Tule Elk:


For the first time, we saw cranes doing a mating dance:


Cranes mating dance

We saw a couple of coyotes. This one had really big ears!


My husband and I like to joke how there is always a theme at the refuge every time we go there. Sometimes the theme is quail, or ducks or owls. Other times it’s sunflowers or fluffy seed pod trees or whatever. This weekend’s theme was dragonflies. There were literally thousands of them skimming and darting all over the place! This particular one was about to become a spider’s lunch and I just had to rescue it. Here it is pausing on my shirt sleeve before flying off:


I love it that we’re able to hop in the car, drive about 7 minutes or so and be right in the thick of nature.

Our Trip to Solvang

We recently took a trip to Solvang, a little town in Southern California. It’s a cute little “tourist trap” kind of place that looks like a busy little village in Denmark. Emily said it looks like it’s a town out of fairytale! I always enjoy seeing little bits of our country (and the world) via other’s blogs, so I’m sharing some pictures of our visit below.

Solvang bakery

One of the reasons we wanted to go to Solvang was to get a cherry boat from Olsen’s bakery. We drove like 5 hours to find out they were sold out! LOL! However, I thoroughly enjoyed the delicious goodie pictured below instead. It was some sort of rich concoction of whipped cream, flaky pastry, chocolate and nuts. Mmmmm…

Solvang bakery pastry


Solvang windmill

Solvang restaurant


Slovang antique shop

This picture reminded me of the book: The Wheel on the School

Solvang storks

Solvang shop

Slovang store

Looking through a window at rows of goodies:

Solvang goodies


I really enjoyed all of the detail on the buildings. Look at the wooden shingles on this roof:

Solvang roof

Beautiful brickwork:

Solvang bricks

Solvang tower bells

Solvang statue

There were beautiful flowers everywhere…


Solvang bench

Solvang Restaurant


Our recent projects and a trip to Monterey

The kids have been enjoying our geography studies. I think one of their favorite activities (besides watching movies at Discovery Streaming) are the cooking “assignments”. Here are a few pictures of our creations.

Spätzle, rotkraut and roast with gravy for our Germany study:


Growing up, this was one of my very favorite meals as a child that my Oma and sometimes my mom would make. When it was time to study Germany, I just couldn’t pass this meal up, even though it wasn’t listed in our instructor’s guide. It was fairly easy to make and the kids loved it so much that they made a 2nd batch for our lunch.

Spätzle recipe :

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk (or water)
  • 3 tbsp butter

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl except for the butter. The “dough” should be fairly smooth and not too thick. Push the dough through the holes of a colander or put it through a spätzle press into approx. 3 quarts of salted boiling water. You will want to make a few batches so that you don’t overcrowd the pot. Cook for 4 minutes or until the spätzle rises to the surface. You can gently stir it so that they don’t stick. Once they are done boiling, rinse them in cold water.

Melt the butter in a pan on medium heat and then add the rinsed spätzle. Fry them up until they get a little bit of color. We like ours to have a hint of brown crispiness on some of them.

We ate our spätzle with a roast I made in the crockpot. I just threw the meat in with a little bit of water and a package of dry onion soup mix. We topped both the meat and the spätzle with a package of gravy that I added some of the meat “drippings” to.

Here is the recipe for rotkraut (red cabbage):

  • 1-2 green apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1/2 to 1 head of red cabbage (shredded)
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1 cup water

Simmer all ingredients in a covered pot for approx. 1 hour or until the cabbage and apples are tender.
Here is another recipe that is a little bit different. There are lots of other variations of the recipe online as well.

The kids also made some other yummy treats when were studying France:

Here’s a blurry picture of our French cheese canapes from WinterPromise’s Fun & Traditions in Many Lands book which made a very delicious lunch!

Here is a piece of the French apple tart that Otter made all by himself!

French apple tart

The kids also made some “quick” Spanish flan, Spanish banana chips (with plantains), a Black Forest cake (for Germany), beef stroganoff (Russia), Italian salad & pasta and more.

We aren’t just doing cooking projects – the kids have also made some crafts. Here are their paper cutting projects for the week we studied Poland:

Otter’s cut paper flower (click the link for the PDF instructions):

paper cutting craft

Emily’s paper cutting project:

paper cutting

Bear’s paper cutting:

paper cutting

The kids have also been having a great time with science! Otter’s Science has been working out great. There are just enough activities and a good balance of reading, movies and projects. I do need to tweak the schedule some and add some comments about some of the books – but that will come later when I get the new website up and running.

Otter’s brain hat:

Brain hat

Otter’s model vertebrae and nerves from The Body Book:

model vertebrae

Dissecting a brain:

Dissecting a brain

Both boys do most of the projects together with the exception of the Body Book models (which are too easy for Bear). They had a ton of fun doing the dissections and learned quite a bit. What a difference it was compared to the days when Emily had to do dissections! Let’s just say she wasn’t very fond of the whole process…

We also took the kids to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for one of the free homeschool days. It’s an amazing place! I guess we were pretty lucky to get tickets because of the overwhelming response by the local homeschoolers. The free days are really a blessing because otherwise the admission prices for all of us would be prohibitive. I’m really thankful to whomever dreamed that up. Here are a few pics of our visit:

Feeding time at the kelp tank:

diver and fish

Studying some fish:


The aviary at the aquarium was awesome! The birds are literally within arms reach in some places. They are all rescues (I believe) and very “tame” / tolerant of people. We were all amazed at how close we were to all of them. It was a photographer’s paradise! By the way, my husband took all of the aquarium pictures. 🙂

Another one of our favorite sections of the aquarium is the jelly fish area. I could stay there for hours, if we had the time. The jellyfish are just mesmerizing and beautiful.

A seal napping outside in the bay:

The otters were fun to watch:


Mission to the Deep interactive area
Emily said it looks like they are sitting in a Star Trek set!

And finally to wrap up today’s entry, here is a picture of one of our local wildlife refuges. The sandhill cranes are here this time of year and lots of ducks have come down from colder regions for the winter. We try to take the kids to the refuges frequently and are always amazed at how there is something different each time we visit. We are really fortunate to live in an area where there is a lot of nature that is easily accessible. I think it’s good for all of us and really helps us to better connect to the seasons and rhythms of natural life.

Not only are the kids studying different countries around the world this year, they are also getting to get in touch with what is local and learning about the area where they live. I hope that someday they will all look back on these things I’ve been sharing with you as precious childhood memories and that they will have learned a lot about our wonderful world, both far and near.

Observing Nature

Dh was out in the front yard this morning when he heard what he called “a propeller driven bomber” fly past his ear. He then noted this guy doing some bee grocery shopping and ran inside to grab his camera:

bumblee bee in a flower

Bumble bee loaded with pollen

The next picture is my favorite. Look at how the edges of the wings are slightly torn. Check out all that pollen! I think the pollen from these flowers is just begging to be looked at under our microscope.

Bee covered in pollen

This pic is out of focus, but I like it too. The bee’s little feet are totally covered in pollen. It looks like he has fuzzy boots on.

bee covered in pollen flying away

We took the boys to the wildlife refuge again recently. Here are some pictures of our adventure there:

I think this may be a racoon print. You can see the little pieces of fur inside the print. There were tons of tracks criss-crossing the dry creek/canal bed. It looked like the animals were going after the fish stranded in the shallow puddles and all of the stranded and dead crawfish. The fish that were left were amazing to watch. They were JUMPING partly out of the water to get the tons of mosquitoes floating above the surface of the water. We stopped and watched them for awhile (from the mosquito-proof safety of the car, LOL).

This tree that looks like it was in a snow storm is covered in white seed “fluff”.

Tree covered in seed fluff

We almost always see pheasants running around at the refuge. It’s very hard to get a picture of one because, despite the bright coloring, they have an amazing knack at getting “lost” in the ground cover very quickly. They are also very shy and skittish.

This time though we saw quite a few of them and even were treated to hearing one of them call.

The last thing we saw before leaving was this hawk. He was sitting on a fence pole and then flew off shrieking. Click here for a page of animal sounds. If you scroll down to the one for a hawk – that is just what he sounded like.

Hawk screeching

I’m going to start up a nature study with the kids using this site. Barb has created challenges with suggested activities with free nature journal notebook pages. What a wonderful resource! There is plenty of inspiration from other families who’ve completed the challenges and blogged about it.

I think it’s so important for kids to spend time outside. It’s also important to take some time to notice the details of the world around us.