Thursday, June 27, 2013

Learning: Panama Edition

There are so many butterflies in Panama! We were happy to catch many glimpses of iridescent blue as huge Blue Morphos fluttered in the sunshine. We stayed at a hotel that had a butterfly habitat, and got to see their beautiful chrysalis', as well as the caterpillars munching away on banana leaves. 

    One of the best things about traveling is that learning happens so naturally. I consider our family to be pretty relaxed about homeschooling, not too hung up on grade levels and such. I try to take advantage of and jump into the learning opportunities that present themselves as we go about our lives, and traveling offers so many of them. I wanted to share a few of the many wonderful learning moments we had during the time we spent in Panama. This is no small part of why we travel and an integral part of what we want for our children's education. I love that I'm learning right along with them, seeing firsthand things I've only read about! 

Poppy and Raphael looked closely at a snake during our visit to El Serpentario in El Valle, a reptile refuge and educational center run by a man named Mario. We enjoyed our afternoon there, learning about turtles and various kinds of snakes. Mario was very knowledgeable and enjoyed sharing his world with us. 
Dan was an interesting character that was staying at the guest house part of the time we were there. He was painting some art around the grounds in exchange for lodging in the gardener's shed. One of his claims to fame, and he had several, was that he had been an Olympic fencer. Peregrine, of course, jumped on that one, and Dan offered to teach him fencing while we were there. I think one of the best parts of traveling is that the kids get so much real life interaction with people who are doing things they're passionate about. We meet many people who are going after their dreams and working hard to achieve their goals; how could my kids not be inspired when they're growing up seeing this? I want them to believe they can dream big and work hard and do anything they set their mind to!

There is always cooking! Poppy is getting more interesting in baking and cooking, and she created this Panama Sunshine Cake, aka a pineapple upside down cake. I love walking through markets in different places and enjoy the challenge of cooking with what's available and trying new things. 
There was a small stream running through the property, and the kids liked to go down there at night to catch and examine the toads. Of course we read up on them! 
Bird spotting! Armed with a local bird book and a pair of binoculars, we spotted many species of birds and tried to learn a bit about them. Panama, being an ithsmus, is a haven for migratory birds and one of the top birdwatching spots in the world. We were privileged to see many beautiful birds. 
Interacting with different cultures is a huge part of  the education we want our kids to have. We want them to know that people do things in many different ways, and yet, in the things that matter, we are all the same. Our hosts were a lovely Swiss/Colombian couple who were so gracious and kind. Harry made this balance board for Peregrine, and it was easy to imagine children in a Colombian village playing with it! 
In Panama City we stayed in Casco Viejo, which had been the seat of the French Government at one point. Walking through the streets we could see the different types of architecture as we learned a little about the history of the city. 
Books, always books! We carry more books with us than is possibly sane. On this trip I brought picture books about sea life and coral reefs, the rainforest and jungle animals, and the Panama Canal. After spying leaf cutter ants in the forest one day, we read about them in our rainforest books. The older kids kept a small journal, drawing pictures and writing about things we saw and did along the way. 

Visiting zoos, wildlife refuges, and museums helped us to absorb more about the local flora, fauna, and history. This is an endangered frog we saw at El Nispero Zoo in El Valle de Anton. 
And a panther. Looks like an overgrown housecat with some powerful jaws! 
Getting up close and personal with history is another highlight of learning on the road.  We explored the ruins of a fort in Portobelo and could easily imagine the showdowns between colonists and pirates like Sir Francis Drake, who is said to be in a leaden coffin somewhere near this spot.
It seemed that the trees were there to play host to a variety of orchids, bromeliads, and other plants, insects, birds, and more. We enjoyed learning about how frogs lay their eggs on bromeliads, and their tadpoles actually live in the pools of water collected in the leaves.
Visiting the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal was a fantastic experience as we learned not only about the history of the canal, but about global shipping and how this is really a hub for the world. Over breakfast the other day we wrote down the countries where our ingredients had come from, and then looked at our map and tried to discern which might have passed through the Canal on its way to our table.
A walk in the forest was a time to explore and discover things we'd read about in our books about the rainforest. The little green bits in the picture were carried by leaf cutter ants, an important part of the rainforest ecosystem. 
Peregrine has been studying Spanish the last few years, and it's great to watch him try it out and interact with people in real life! 
Shopping and walking through markets provides an interesting look at similarities and differences in cultures. 
Trying street foods is a fun adventures as we learn about how people eat and get used to different flavors. 
Browsing a local artisan market gave us a chance to interact with some of the people who are indigenous to Panama. This San Blas Kuna woman proudly showed off her intricate and beautiful handwork. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

From Panama to Canada

Sun setting over the Caribbean on our return flight from Panama. 

I can't believe it's been four months since I've posted anything. No, we are not still sailing in Panama! We are, in fact, settled down for a few months while Erik works on a contract job and we get some positive cash flow going to finance the next adventure. I'm hoping to get back to blogging a bit more regularly, but for now, here's a little update on what's been happening the last few months. 

    We had a few really fun adventures during our last few weeks in Panama, and I will try to post some pictures soon. One of the highlights was a Jungleland adventure that included an overnight stay on Lake Gatun, exploring the Panama Canal, spotting wild monkeys, kayaking in the jungle, and hunting crocodiles by night.

    We flew back to the US on February 21st, and had a very short week in Eugene, unloading the contents of our storage unit into a trailer, visiting friends and family, and getting ready to head north. Last fall, in the aftermath of Hurricane (Megastorm?) Sandy, Erik had put in a call to a company that does contract work in his field. They basically offered him work when he was available, so we decided to take a job that would have us in the Northwest for a few months this spring.

    He is working right on a US/Canada border crossing, so we are living in Canada while he works. It's been nice to be settled here, and we've enjoyed exploring a new place. I grew up in Canada, and all the kids have dual citizenship, so I'm glad they're getting to experience Canada. We're in the process of figuring out our next step, and hope to have plans to share soon. Here are some pictures that show a few highlights of our time so far.

On our way North, we spent a day in Seattle and explored the Pacific Science Center.
The kids in front of the Space Needle.
One of the things I love about where we are is seeing the mountains around us. I was born in the mountains, and there is something about them that stirs my soul. This is Mount Baker, which I climbed many years ago. I dream about backpacking as a family someday.
We arrived here at the beginning of March, at the request of the company Erik is working for. We ended up having nearly three weeks before he started work, so we took the ferry over to Vancouver Island for a week. I love riding ferries. It reminds me of my childhood. The job was originally supposed to be done by the end of May, but it's dragging out a good couple of months beyond that. It's a good thing we're in flexible mode!
We enjoyed exploring Victoria and got to spend time with my niece, Savanna. It was fun for all of us and the kids enjoyed getting to know their cousin, whom we hadn't seen in years.
We stayed in hotels and vacation rentals while trying to find a house to rent. It ended up being quite an ordeal, and a very stressful first month here. People were either looking for a long term lease or didn't want to rent to someone with kids. After a couple weeks we found this place, which seemed ideal. We were so relieved and thankful. It turned nightmarish less than a week after we moved in, when the owner decided she wanted to live in it again. We then learned she was not to be trusted, and neighbors told us she'd been taken away screaming in handcuffs on more than one occasion. We moved out of this house, not having found another one, and ended up staying in vacation rentals for another week while we looked for better place to live. 
Poppy turned eight the day before we had to leave the house. 
And Raphael had his fifth birthday just a few days later. Yes, his shirt is inside out and backwards. That's the way he likes it.
We were so thankful to find a place to rent, and it's turned out to be wonderful. It's an older house, and the owners are planning to tear it down, divide the lot, and rebuild. The landlords have been so very kind to us, and we feel very blessed. It has way more space than we need and a huge yard where the kids have had lots of fun. When the weather is cold or rainy, they ride their scooters in the basement! The house was built to maximize sun exposure and has huge windows. Erik hung our Mayan hammock in this sunny room. We've all enjoyed being settled for a while. I'm loving the luxury of a full kitchen and a big bathtub. Cleaning a huge house? Not so much. It's been nice to be back into a routine with school and life, and it's made us realize we need to take travel very slowly. 
My handsome boy served up a Mother's Day feast! 
And the Pearlie Girlie turned three! 
We've had lots of real life learning over the last year, and this has been a nice time to do more "book learning", as well as some of  fun little projects and experiments.
Poppy's taken an interest in sewing, and made this little felt heart which she is very proud of. 
We joined millions of people worldwide to March Against Monsanto. Safe, reliable food sources are something I feel pretty passionate about and we had a fun day protesting together.
This is a little lake up near Whistler, where we went hiking one day. This is such a beautiful area.
Erik celebrated his birthday, with lots of love and homemade ice cream.
We're enjoying being near the Pacific Ocean.
This is just a short walk from our home.