Tag Archives: science


Last Christmas, Sadie wanted and received one of those insect kits to raise butterflies.  We’ve been so busy traveling and visiting that we just haven’t used the voucher to order the larvae and start the process.  She recently pulled the box out of her cubby and it seemed the perfect time.  So we went to and used the voucher from our box to order the larvae.  We paid only shipping because the kit included the voucher but you can order and pay for a variety of insects there without the kits as well.  Sure enough, 2 days later we received 5 little black caterpillar-looking larvae.

They grew like mad!  It seemed everytime we walked by their little cup, they were significantly bigger to the point that they ended up greenish, brownish, fat, fuzzy caterpillars.  The cup had tiny air holes and included the food they needed to get to their chrysalid phase so we didn’t do anything but watch for about a week.  They made silk strands criss cross the cup and walked around on them and one day one of them attached its rear end to the paper lid liner of the cup.  The other four promptly followed.  That was about a week ago.  We watched them change from soft and squishy looking to covered in hard, dry casings that had iridescent gold spots on them.  According to the instructions, we removed the paper lid liner from the cup and safety pinned it to the lower inside edge of the net butterfly house.  In the process, one of the chrysalids fell off.  Yikes!  I was able to gently rub the silk remaining on the top against the cup and it stuck back on.


Yesterday I got a call while I was out from Chris.  “We have a butterfly!”  Indeed, we do.  And it is a beautiful miracle of nature!  So awesome.

Sadie picked the heads off of two of her potted petunias, mixed the sugar water, and dropped a few droplets on the petals.  We all watched this morning as our butterfly friend extended its proboscis and drank the sweet mixture.  It was visibly disturbed by our hands, our presence, and household noises.  Before our bumpy drive to Austin this morning, we decided to set this one free.

We have four other chrysalids remaining.  In the process, the same chrysalid that had come detached before fell again.  We picked it up and examined it and could see the butterfly wings inside!!!  This time it would not stick back on.  I took a piece of dental floss and tied it to the silk hanging off and tied the other end to the strap on the top of the net house then zipped the zipper closed over it.

Guess what?!  As I’m typing this post, that butterfly has emerged! Phew. I was kind of worried about that guy.

We are all excited to observe other insects from Having read just about everything about butterflies we have gotten our hands on, it’s positively awesome to watch their transition first hand. I think any other observations may have to wait until spring weather… The nights are getting chilly here in Texas already!

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Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Projects


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Re-use, Grow, Eat- Repeat

We got a late start to planting our veggie garden this year.  With all of the research of and preparation for RV living, I tried not to put energy into anything that would keep my focus on staying in this house.  I felt like rooting plants here and becoming attached to seeing them through to harvest might alter the flow of energy toward our life on the road- not to mention that we were just plain busy.  When the first house deal fell through, I was on a mission.  It was too late in the season to start seeds so I marched off to the market and picked up seedlings in peet pots.  So how to address the issue of rooting here and potentially missing the fruit?  Even after our recent tremendous clean-out, I was able to find five random plastic tubs in which to plant mobile veggies – a container garden.  I have had issues in the past being able to maintain moisture in containers in Texas.  It hasn’t been a problem this year, however.  I was inspired by this article in Mother Earth News and decided to try again. 

– Green beans in re-purposed cat litter bin*

– Green bell peppers in small, re-purposed concrete container*

– Cherry tomatoes in large, plastic pot that once housed a bush that was planted

– Some kind of tiny, bitter peppers in an old, plastic pot

– Cucumbers in an old, plastic pail*

 *holes made in the bottom for drainage by banging a large nail through in several places*

The pots are hiding a bit amongst the moon flowers whose seeds must have blown in from the one I had potted on the patio last year.  The kids get a kick out of the traveling moon flowers and it helps to bring meaning to books like The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle which is one of my kids’ favorites.  I don’t know if it has to do with starting seedlings rather than seeds, the smaller containers that contain the roots and encourage top growth, the occasional shade lent by the moonflowers, or some other variable entirely but all of our plants are burgeoning wildly.  We have eaten many peppers, tomatoes, and green beans already.  While last year we waited all season for one, lonely (yet outrageously delicious) cucumber, this year promises a record-breaking cuke yield.

The kids and I have already talked so much about re-purposing household items, companion planting, helpful insects, garden pests, plant reproduction, etc. that it has been absolutely worth planting and having this time even if we end up not being able to bring our buckets with us on the road.  The cukes are coming, though.  Mark my words.  I will not miss out on that delicious harvest.  The kids have been hoping to make pickles.  What better way than with our very own homegrown cucumbers?

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Posted by on June 6, 2010 in Food, Gardening, RV


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Spring is upon us!

Yes, it’s spring.  The weather is absolutely gorgeous.  We’ve been spending tremendous amounts of time outside doing all sorts of exciting things with all sorts of wonderful people.  Here’s a catch-up:

Rollerskating around the neighborhood- our wheels were not acceptable for the local indoor rink so we are just as happy to enjoy the weather and play together outside at home.

We’re making the rounds of the playgrounds on foot, bike, rollerskates, and wiggle cars.  This run-down jungle gym was an unexpected find on a bike ride one afternoon.  The kids thought it was pretty funny to climb on the window of the school bus.

Several people have asked me, when discussing unschooling, how my kids get PE (aka- gym).  I have to laugh because we’re always on the move! 

FINALLY- winter chill and wetness are gone and we’re getting together every two weeks for our DFW Whole-Life Unschooling Meet-Ups!  Discussions so far this spring have ranged from supporting health and wellness by listening to our children listening to their own bodies to talking to people about unschooling.  These are long days full of thoughtful, supportive, open-minded discussion and children frolicking happily on the playground, in the wooded areas, and in the creek!

We’ve hung out with old friends (Sadie and Rachel eat lunch together at the park).

And new friends!  The kids (after another fabulous children’s theatre production at Casa Manana) explore a 200 year-old pecan tree at the Ft. Worth Botanic Gardens with Milford and Crewe (of New Zealand). 

Creeks are a big fascination this spring.  We’ve spent a LOT of time exploring water!

We’ve got Miss Skooter with us almost everywhere we go.  She’s the kids’ baby and best friend.  She’s gotten quite big (for a small dog, mind you) but is dwarfed by Lulu.  We’ve found some great wild areas to explore near the house and are learning all the time about and because of our sweet pups.  Here Lulu looks longingly at what we presume to be an animal den.  It’s cleverly protected by cacti which keeps her at bay.


Posted by on April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Lego Contraptions

Yes, the fascination with Legos continues.  I would imagine the creators of Lego are filthy rich and I am thoroughly happy for and ingraciated to them.  These building blocks are so much more and we continue to find new ways to use them, create with them, learn with them, and enjoy them.  We’ve created magical lands, natural habitats, vehicles, castles, scenes lending hours of pretend play, stop animation movies, and now this…

Look what we found!  Lego Crazy Action Contraptions (In the children’s section of my book shop! When you purchase books through my Amazon store, it supports this blog as well as my unschooling advocacy podcast/site- is a book of plans for  building neat little projects that spin, move, and otherwise function.  We have a couple different types of these books and they’re all great.  Lego blocks are paired with rubber bands and gears according to diagrams so clear that even Sadie and I could follow them.

We’ve built a whole bunch of them.  It’s so fun!  The only thing we don’t like?    There are only enough of the different pieces to make one contraption at a time so we had to take one apart to move on to the next.

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Posted by on April 25, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Butterflies in the Garden

This is a little bit older post- I’m catching up. 🙂

The Fort Worth Botanic Gardens presented tropical butterflies from all over the world inside of their conservatory.  We love the Gardens!  This was the perfect opportunity for us to finally check out the inside of the conservatory.  The gardens are so big that we’ve spent most of our time enjoying the free areas. 

While the classroom presentation was disappointing and disorganized, it was worth sitting through to wander through the conservatory surrounded by beautiful butterflies exhibiting mating, basking (did you know butterflies are solar powered?), nectaring, and puddling behaviors in the hot, humid climate created specifically for their visit.  We were most affected by the emphasis on the importance of the butterflies remaining inside the conservatory because of the potential for dramatic environmental impact should non-natives be released in a new area.

We also got to check out chrysalis from many different types of butterflies!

We spent some time with a butterfly whose wings did not flatten appropriately before drying and would eventually die on the underside of the leaf where it hung.  This was emotional for the kids and led to more discussion of the circle of life, survival of the fittest, and the law of conservation of energy:  the law of conservation of energy says that energy is neither created nor destroyed. When we use energy, it doesn’t disappear. We change it from one form of energy into another.  The energy that is this butterfly may change shape but the death of its shell will not destroy its essence.  This is a very comforting and concrete way that we talk about physical death.


Posted by on April 19, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Fire Science Strikes!

 The fascination with fire and candles seems to have been sparked again over the last couple of days.  Our ‘flicker’ lighter ran out of fluid so we’re on to discovering matches in the back of the pen drawer to light candles and blow them out.  We’ve talked about and researched fire at length before and even experimented with hypothesizing outcomes and then burning various natural materials.

After figuring out how a match ‘works’ (below), the kids (who were eating lunch while doing all of this) wondered laughingly what would happen if they set fire to each of their food items.  Here’s what happened:

Cheddar cheese- Hypothesis– Sadie- it will catch fire!  Elijah- it will turn it to fondue!  Outcome– it browned and dripped onto the plate.

Grape tomato- Hypothesis– Sadie- it will catch fire!  Elijah- it will explode and tomato juice will go everywhere.  Outcome- it shriveled and blackened.

Hard pepperoni- Hypothesis– Sadie- it will catch fire!  Elijah- it will cook or burn.  Outcome– it decreased in size and blackened.

The introduction of the use of matches brought a new curiousity that was satisfied by this perfect URL (found by Googling the question, “How does a match work?”). 

How does a match work?

(Lansing State Journal, Sept. 25 1997)


Although you may not know it, striking a match starts a chemical reaction. There are two types of matches: safety matches and “strike anywhere” matches. A safety match can only light when someone strikes it against the striking surface on the side of the match box. A “strike anywhere” match can be lit by striking the match on anything solid. A “striking surface” is made of sand, powdered glass, and a chemical called “red phosphorus”. The head of a safety match is made of sulfur, glass powder, and an oxidizing agent. An oxidizing agent is a chemical that takes electrons from another chemical. When a chemical loses electrons we say it has been oxidized. An oxidizing agent is necessary to keep a flame lit. Oxygen gas is a common oxidizing agent. A simple test for oxygen is to hold a red hot (no flame) piece of wood in a tube of gas that might be oxygen. In oxygen things will burn much faster than in air, and the wood will burst into flame.

When a match is struck on the striking surface of its box, the friction caused by the glass powder rubbing together produces enough heat to turn a very small amount of the red phosphorus into white phosphorus, which catches fire in air. This small amount of heat is enough to start a chemical reaction that uses the oxidizing agent to produce oxygen gas. The heat and oxygen gas then cause the sulfur to burst into flame, which then catches the wood of the match to catch on fire.

A “strike anywhere” match works in a similar way, but instead of phosphorus being on a striking surface, it is added to the head of the match. You can tell the difference between the two types of matches by looking at the colors of the match heads. A safety head is only one color, but a “strike anywhere” match is two colors: one for the phosphorus, and one for the oxidizing agent.

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Posted by on April 19, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Happy (Chinese) New Year!

We joined some friends at the Dallas Museum of Science and Nature for a lion dance demonstration in celebration of the Chinese New Year.  Sadie asked me to paint her face like a tiger in honor of 2010- the Year of the Tiger.

Of course, there were many other activities in which to participate before and after this really cool dance display.   There was faux cow milking, mirror distortion, wall climbing, reptile and insect examining, block building, sound and magnet experimenting, puzzle constructing, lunchtime discussions with our friends, and so much more.

As I’m writing this, I consider whether I really need to translate all of the learning that went on this day (or any other, for that matter).  I consider whether you will require a translation into educationese or edspeak for you to understand that in these- whether brief or extended- experiences, the children are rapidly absorbing and considering vast amounts of information and expanding their basis for understanding many facets of the world.  I am guilty of this in the past as a means of trying to bridge the gap for those who are interested in unschooling and require a means of explanation to comprehend everyday learning. 

I determine- in analyzing my discomfort with this- that, like Pat Farenga in his piece Schools Are from Mars, Homeschoolers Are from Earth, this would actually be a decay of clarity.  Lumping the brilliance of each activity into phrases and categorizations to be filed into some ‘authority’s’ determination on whether appropriate learning is occurring actually dilutes the power of the awareness of everyday learning experiences.  By doing this, we play into the hands of the overpowered and disempowering educational powers-that-be and feed the lack of understanding that powerful educational opportunities are all around us and learning experiences are happening all the time.  To generalize the wonder of them categorically and in jargon meant only to convolute it to someone else’s elevated sense of importance is to reduce it, contain it, and hand it over.  I won’t do this with my children by sending them to school and I won’t do it with the amazing life experiences that they are compiling every day.  I ponder about a great many such topics in writing and spoken word on my other blog/podcast- Humans Being.

This is a small portion of the Lion Dance performance.  The drumming and quick, agile, coordinated movements between the two dancers in costume had us riveted.  Afterward, the kids had the opportunity to participate by drumming and performing their own lion dance in costume.  We read the history of the lion dance on a giant poster brought in by the dance company- so interesting!  Lots of knowledge and jumping off points for discussion can be found in the unlikeliest of places!  Here is some information for you about Chinese cultural traditions.

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Posted by on April 14, 2010 in Uncategorized


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