Since it’s so close, we decided to make our first big “National Parks Family Trip” venture to Death Valley in a single day. January and February are the prime visiting times for this park, and it still wasn’t very crowded. Maybe people have the idea that there isn’t anything to see here, but that’s not the case at all. As soon as we arrived at the visitors’ center and saw the campground, we wished we made it a two day trip. This place is absolutely amazing. There’s a ton of cool stuff to see in Death Valley, even with little kids, and we’ll definitely be making another trip when the weather cools off again in the late fall.
At the Furnace Creek Visitors’ Center we bought each of the kids a National Parks Passport book to collect cancellations–we plan on hitting a lot of parks, and wanted them to have something they could use for their rest of their lives. I hope they’ll try to see as many of the Parks as possible. And hopefully, this is the first stamp of many we’ll collect in 2015!
Pupfish at Salt Creek Interpretive Trail
Our first stop was at the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail. We love to see stuff that you can only see at one (or at least only a few) places in the world. Believe it or not, there are fish in Death Valley. This trail is a boardwalk that crosses Salt Creek several times, and it gave the kids a chance to get a close up look at the Death Valley Pupfish. They were stranded in Death Valley at the end of the last ice age and have adapted to this environment. Pretty cool!
The first time I ever came to the Mojave Desert, I was surprised that weren’t at least some sand dunes to see. I was just looking in the wrong place. For our next stop, we visited Death Valley’s Sand Dunes. This was definitely one of the highlights of our visit. You go for a couple of miles on these dunes, and when we come back we’ll definitely come armed with more water and some snacks. The kids had a great time running down these–almost as good as playing in snow. Almost.
This was the stop I was most excited about personally. Being here in January, I can’t imagine getting out of the car here in July, much less running 135 miles from here to Mt. Whitney. Temperatures were in the upper 70s for us, but it felt much hotter, even with a little bit of an overcast sky. The girls had fun pretending the salt flats we were walking on was snow–any chance they get to play “Elsa and Anna”. It was a little tough keeping them off the untouched cracked sections. I’m sure that was very tempting to them. What kid wouldn’t love to feel that crunch under their feet?
Because of its proximity to Las Vegas, Death Valley was the first on our long list of National Parks we want to visit while we’re living out West. One of the best things about living in Las Vegas so far has been the proximity to so many amazing things we never had access to on the East Coast, and we’re taking full advantage.
If you’re ever in Vegas on a cold day and want to see something cool, I’d definitely recommend a quick road trip to Death Valley. Much closer than the Grand Canyon, and you can enjoy the warm sunshine on a cold winter day.
We can’t to return to Death Valley this November or December. It’s such an easy drive from Las Vegas, and stopping in Pahrump for dinner on the way back was a treat as well!
My intention was to write a long descriptive post about how awsum this run was. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time to blog, and have now forgotten most of the details.
That’s a good thing, because the sooner I forget how much this run beat me up, the sooner I’ll go out and do it again.
Enjoy the photos!!!
For the last 11 months, we’ve been pretty diligent about recording educational activities in Evernote. When I say “we”, I mostly mean The Missus. She has a lot more access to the kids on a day-to-day basis to capture photos and write quick descriptions of what they’re doing.
Even with our efforts to stay on top of it, it’s next to impossible to capture everything they are learning.
That’s a good thing.
When you change your perspective and realize that learning is something that is always happening (not just between the hours of 8 am to 3 pm during the months of August-May), you realize you can’t even begin to truly document it.
We just had our annual teacher evaluation for our
first grader 6 year old learner. It was the first time we’ve gone through the official evaluation for the state of Florida, and we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Mostly, we wanted to make sure that we had not only enough hard samples, but also lots of information stored digitally to demonstrate the wide range of subjects and interests she’s explored during the “school year”.
The Missus is an organization freak, and I’m an information hoarder, so we should have known we’d done enough. Still, we were relieved to find we had plenty of hard samples of work, and what we’ve been doing in Evernote made it super easy to demonstrate the fact that our kids are learning a ton.
Our approach to using Evernote to track the kids’ education is constantly evolving and being tweaked, but I thought I’d document a few of the tips and tricks we’ve developed along the way.
Buy the Premium version of Evernote
Homeschoolers are notorious for seeking out good deals and using as many free resources as possible. Not criticizing that at all…I’m all about it! But this is one place I’d recommend spending the extra money. You won’t be sorry. At $45/year, Evernote is an insanely good deal. Some of the benefits of Premium are:
- 100 Mb notes, and 1 Gb/month of storage. You’ll need it for the photos you take on field trips with your mobile device
- Search within photos. Again, this works great for field trips. You won’t have to annotate nearly as much, because you can just take photos of all the informational signs you see, and search will help you easily navigate to these signs later.
- Sharing notes. More about this in the next section, but our strategy depends heavily on both parents having access to the Notebooks we use.
If you aren’t sure about this purchase, the free version is still extremely useful and highly recommended!
Get Both Parents Involved
My favorite thing about using Evernote is that I get to see what the kids are doing and learning without being there. I only get to go to a few of their out-of-the-house activities because of the pesky work thing, but they are constantly out doing stuff. I have Evernote open all day for my own notes, and since Evernote allows The Missus to record notes on her mobile device and they are shared with my account, I can see what’s going on semi-real time. If they’re out for a program at a nature center, I can check in at lunch and see what they’ve been up to. When we sit down to dinner, I have a bunch of specific questions about their trip.
“Did you get to see any critters on your field trip?” is a much better conversation starter than “So…what did you learn today?”
I also use Evernote to add notes for things I do with them, and it gives us a central location to track everything. For example, I taught them a game they love a few weeks ago. To tell me which coloring pages they want me to print from Google Images, they give me the column number and row number of the picture. To them, that’s just a cool “code” to tell me what they want, but it gets recorded in Evernote as a math activity–the Cartesian coordinate system.
I do the majority of bedtime reading around here, and as the kids are getting older the subject matter is getting a little deeper. So we are now able to have history discussions based on what we read in the “Little House” series and science discussions prompted by books about snakes and sea creatures.
Your first inclination may be to create separate Notebooks for every subject, but when you think about it, that will soon put you in a position of having to choose between at least two Notebooks, maybe more. For example, let’s say you’re reading the “Magic Tree House” series of books and your child starts asking questions about mummies–what they are, how people were mummified, how long ago this happened (all based on a real conversation we had by the way).
This is exactly how self-directed education works! It’s working! You definitely want to make a note about this! But does it go into the “Reading” Notebook, the “History” Notebook, or the “Science” Notebook? After all, you’ve hit on all these things.
The answer is to forget about trying to drop stuff into Notebooks (basically folders) based on subjects and use tags instead. You can only put a note into a single Notebook, but you can tag it with as many things as you’d like.
(more on our tagging system in the next section)
That doesn’t mean Notebooks aren’t useful though. We use a pretty simple system of Notebooks to keep up with the new notes we create–a “To Be Processed” Notebook, a “Current Academic Year” Notebook, and (as of next month) a Notebook for each archived academic year.
The default Notebook is “To Be Processed”. Every note we create goes here automatically. It stays there until we have both had a chance to tag it, review it, and annotate it if necessary. Once that’s finished (processed), we move it over to the “Current School Year”. And once the academic year has ended and we’re ready to start a new “year”, we’ll move all the notes in that Notebook to the archive Notebook for the past year.
school learning never stops for us, we’re continuing to add notes to the “Current School Year”, even though it’s summer. In August, we’ll empty out the “Current School Year” Notebook, moving all of these notes over to the “2013-2014 Academic Year Archive”, just so we can stay in sync with the timing of regular school.
Tags, Tags, Tags
This is the real payoff in my opionion. The ability to tag your notes is huge for unschoolers. Since we don’t have “subjects” in the traditional sense as part of our every day learning, it would be really difficult (as mentioned above) to categorize notes into separate Notebooks the way traditional education systems break down classes and subject matter. Still, we need a way to make the evaluation process run smoothly and to show that we’re making progress in specific subjects.
And, let’s be honest, some unschoolers get a little anxious now and then they aren’t “doing” enough, especially when it comes to math. By tagging notes, it’s easy to go back and review what’s been going on and quickly see progress. More often than not, you’re able to put your mind at ease when you find there’s actually a lot of math going on, just not in the sense of filling out worksheets at a desk.
Forty six notes as shown below may not seem like much, but when you consider that these are just the moments you were able to capture and document, you realize they are doing a ton of math all the time!
So how do we organize tags? This is the part of our system we’ve developed by trial and error. What we’ve tried to do is determine what we’d like to know about each note, and develop a way to organize the tagging:
- What subject?
- Who? Which kid(s)?
- What area of interest (specifically)?
- Where did this happen?
- When (automatically taken care of in Evernote…cool!!!)
Here’s where we got fancy out of necessity. When you go to tag a note, Evernote tries to assist you with an auto-complete feature. Great feature! The problem is that you’ll probably end up with a ton of tags in the four different areas mentioned above, and that makes the auto-complete not as handy.
For instance, if your kid’s name starts with an ‘S’ and you want to tag them in a note, as soon as you type ‘S’ you’re going to get a long list of possible tags and (from experience) you’ll end up hitting “enter” prematurely and tagging them with an incorrect spelling that you can’t find later.
To make it easier to tag notes quickly, we came up with a prefixing system to make things super-easy to see at a glance.
For traditional subject categories, which are useful when it’s time to do evaluations, we use the ‘$’ (it looks like an ‘S’, get it?) as a prefix. So if we’re doing something related to history, we tag it as “$History”. There are very few of these tags, but again, most of our notes have more than one “subject” tag.
When we go to tag the subject(s) of a note, all we have to do is type the ‘$’ symbol, and Evernote automatically filters our tags down to those few subjects.
For the “who” type tags, we just use our kids’ names, but with a ‘+’ at the beginning. So you may tag a note with “+Johnny”, “+Sally”, and “+OtherKid”. This allows you to go back later and look at a what a single child has been up to, or even see what activities they’ve been doing with their brothers and sisters by searching on multiple tags.
When we want to tag the kids in a note, we enter the ‘+’ symbol, and all of our tags are immediately filtered to the only the kids’ names–just three tags.
IMPORTANT–Since our kids are “free-range learners”, a large number of the notes we take are things we just happen to catch them doing during “play”. We’re constantly stumbling upon them doing things like observing bees and counting/sorting rocks. Lots of these activities are things they’re doing together!
For “where” we preface all of the tags with “loc”. Again, not a ton of these, but they look like locHome, locClasses, locMuseum, etc. Admittedly, we don’t use the location tags for a lot of our notes because the photos make the location obvious and Evernote can actually keep up with the precise location for you. Still, it’s nice to quickly be able to use “locBeach” to quickly see all the notes about things they’ve learned there.
By far, the most varied tag type we use is our set of “interests”. We preface these with a ‘!’ (like an ‘i’). Tons and tons of these: !Tessalations, !WaterCycle, !Sewing, !RevolutionaryWar….the list goes on and on. Unlike the others, this set of tags is constantly growing, depending on what the kids are interested in at the time.
We also use the !interest tags to get more specific information about a $subject. For example, if the two year old is sorting game chips by color and counting them, we’ll tag it as $Math, !Sorting, and !Counting.
Here’s a really great example of how we tagged a note for an activity that came about after reading a book on Pompeii. The 6 year old became interested in volcanoes, and read some other books before making one of her own.
I’ll save my remarks about how amazing it is that this was all self-directed for another day, but you get the idea here. Lots of subjects were involved, and specific interests give us more detail about the activity.
I feel like the real benefit to using Evernote for unschooling is going to come at a later date. Maybe in a few years, after they’ve learned to use a tool like Evernote for themselves, they’ll come across some information about Pompeii and wonder, “that sounds familiar–have I ever learned anything about Pompeii?” They’ll be able to easily filter through these notes and see what they’ve already learned.
Maybe it will trigger something for them and it will all come rushing back. Maybe it won’t. But they have the foundation for a personal knowledge base they can continue to build on their own in whatever format they like.
At the very least, Evernote makes it easy for us to keep up with all the amazing things they are doing!
It’s my own fault for not being better prepared and letting off the gas.
Trainerroad announced the 2014 8 Days in California Challenge, and I’m very ill prepared to ride this in just a week and a half. The only thing I can do to make it easier on myself is to take a new FTP test based on my newly found lack of bike fitness.
It sucks when you have to take an FTP test to make things easier on yourself.
Although I don’t expect it to be as grueling as the Tour of Sufferlandria, I’ll be bringing a bucket to this one.
Yoga whoops me. It whoops me good. I have a healthy respect for yoga. It’s eclipsed only by buffets on the list of things that expose my personal weaknesses.
But I have a hard time dealing with all the spiritual stuff commonly associated with it. I’m not saying it’s not real, and I’m not knocking people who are into for those reasons.
If that makes your day better, improves your experience, helps you deal with buttheads at work, that’s great. More power to you! I’m just saying I roll those little invisible eyes in my head that no one else can see every time I hear that stuff.
Again, I’m not saying those aren’t real and powerful things. I know that feeling is real–I get it from running.
Running is my flow. “Scottyasana”–Sanskrit for “Fat Jesus Lizard”.
Yoga, running, rock climbing, surfing…whatever. I think it’s pretty badass if anyone can get this amazing experience out of any activity that doesn’t involve a Schedule I narcotic. If you can find anything in life that makes you feel this good and is good for you at the same time, DO IT!!!
What I don’t fully understand is the need to talk about it at length.
Let’s say you go to a yoga class at your gym (or watch a video). It may be that the person teaching the class feels a ton of inner awareness or connection/oneness with the universe. I’ll go ahead and give them the benefit of the doubt and concede that.
But what about the other thirty people in the class? How many of them are feeling that–really feeling that? How many of them are just faking it because they think they are supposed to be feeling it because you keep talking about it?
I know for a fact that some of them (at least one) are thinking, “C’mon! I just wanted to do a tough workout that includes a little mini-nap at the end! And now you’re talking about crystals and soul rainbows during the nap part!”
Again. I get it. I know that feeling you’re talking about. But do you really have to talk about it (so much)?
And why would you want to?
One of the cool things about running/runners is that they generally don’t talk about this zen experience they have while running.
Don’t get me wrong. They will talk your ear off about running. They will drone on endlessly about their splits, their resting heart rate, and what they felt like 16.37 miles into the race. They will spend so much time at the water cooler telling you about how dehydrated they are from their last workout that you’ll dehydrate yourself just to avoid dealing with them at the water cooler.
I do it (here) all the time.
My poor wife.
But what I won’t talk about often, especially with people who don’t run, is that feeling I get from running. I’m more apt to mention it in passing with a fellow runner. And even then there’s a look in their eye that immediately lets me know whether or not they understand what I’m talking about and if I should carry on.
And when I do talk about it, there’s no way I’m going to divulge the full extent and details. That’s such a personal thing. Really, it’s too personal for me to put into words.
And if I could, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t.
Besides the fact that this feeling is so personal, I also feel like it’s something of a secret about running that I don’t want just anyone to know. I just found it one day. I was never looking for it.
You have to earn it, and it usually happens by chance. Just because you know it’s possible doesn’t mean you always get to have it, even though you walk out the door every day looking for it. At least that’s my experience.
Could it be that everyone doesn’t get a connection to the universe every single time they practice yoga? And can we talk about it a little less?
Maybe, just maybe, people can find it on their own.
I’ve hit a rut.
I’m working out consistently…well, running at least, somewhat consistently…but not having an immediate purpose if starting to take its toll.
My spring so far has sort of been built around rugby. I’ve already played one March tournament in Savannah, and I have another one coming up in NOLA in April. The plan was to make it out to rugby training with The Red Eyes once a week, maybe make a B-side match to help fill out numbers here and there, and get all my other fitness through running and some cycling on the off days.
The problem is that even rugby training jacks my back up. Bad. And the tournament I played a couple of weeks ago left me unable to run for about a week. I’m still going to make it to the NOLA tournament, but nothing in between now and then rugby-wise.
But I’m not amping up my SBR for some reason. I’m chalking up some of that to work travel and spring tasks around the house, but I’m running out of excuses.
Luckily, my Fall schedule is loaded with races–a couple of big Oly distance tris and a couple of 13.1 races right after that. So I’m going to have to start buckling down soon whether I like it or not.
Did I mention I’d like to come into serious tri training this season with a 5k PR?
Yeah…I’d better get on that.
As always, another tremendous event put on by The Running Zone. A really nice course, great volunteer support, and incredible food and atmosphere after the event. RZ has set the bar pretty high over and over…I wouldn’t expect any less.
This was the inaugural running of this event, and I’ll go ahead and make the prediction that it will blow up next year (get in early). It’s a medieval themed race, complete with a sword fight at the start line and crowns instead of medals for all finishers. They did a great job of keeping the race in character from start to finish.
But enough about the race…let’s talk about the race.
The Missus was registered to run this event with her sister–her first race past 5k, but she suffered a calf heart attack (ouch) a couple of weeks ago and had to make a tough game-time decision on whether or not to race. It came down to walk/jog and risk more injury, walk and (hopefully) not get injured, or donate her bib to someone (me) who had a long run scheduled for that day anyway.
Needless to say, nobody wants to walk 10 miles, and the injury risk for someone who runs to augment other fitness wasn’t worth it. So I lucked out!
This course rocks, rocks, rocks. It’s crazy fast, has a nice long section on a private road, water stops every two miles, but not much shade. Heat became a factor.
My planned long run would have been at about 10 minute pace, 8 miles or so, and I hadn’t planned on racing this distance, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from myself. I was going in with a 10 mile PR of 1:18:32 from 10 years ago on a much tougher course. But I’ve been running intervals and tempos at a decent clip lately, so I was going to go for it and see what happened.
Realistic goals were 1:21:xx, but I thought I could crack 1:20:00 if I played it right. I’ve been doing a really good job of race management lately, and I knew the recent speed work would help me feel out my pace.
I guessed if I started somewhere between 8:05 and 8:15 pace I’d have plenty of information after 2 miles to figure out the rest of the race.
I’m very happy with the way I split this race!
8:09, 8:02, 7:56, 7:58, 7:53, 7:50, :7:47, 7:54, 7:42, 7:30
I started right around the 9:00 pace group, thinking that would give me a chance to get some momentum by passing people early, but not too quickly. After the first two miles, I was pretty sure I’d be able to sneak in under 8:00 pace. I was feeling really good, and I’d positioned myself between the 8:30 and 8:00 groups, so there was lots of space.
Running tempo runs in the heat of the day in training paid off big. I was in a pace I knew I could hold for several miles with temperatures in the high 70s, and it was cooler than that. I knew it was going to get hotter, but once I could smell the finish line I thought I’d be able to hang on. My plan was to run two mile segments and bump the pace up a little for each one.
I took a splash of Gatorade at mile 4 and committed to hanging without any more liquid to squeeze time.
I started sipping a Gu at mile 5. Between that and the Gatorade, I was amped. Training without sugar really pays off when you get into a race and allow yourself to have it. It’s like rocket fuel…borderline PED.
Around mile 6 it started to heat up and I noticed a lot of people around me fading a little. I was passing more people, and I wasn’t getting passed by anyone. That’s good on one hand, but also a little scary…did they know something I didn’t? I was doubting my plan just a little.
That accounts for the little pullback for the 8th mile. Just after the 7 mile mark I caught the 8:00 pacer, and he was all alone. I asked if I could hang with him until the 8 mile mark. I wanted to settle down by a few seconds pace and make sure I was going to able to go at it for the last two.
I pretty well emptied the tank on the last two, trying to accelerate the whole way–finished with a 1:19:02, 30 seconds off the PR. Forgot to stop my watch at the finish line, which accounts for the difference in times. A good thing–that means I was so spent I wasn’t thinking clearly. Woohoo!
I was extremely happy with that result. I won’t lie, for a flash I thought, “Ugh….just 31 seconds faster for a PR?!?!” but I quickly realized that would have meant every one of those splits would have been 3 seconds faster, or I would have had to come up with an extra 30 seconds on the last mile. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have done either of those.
Besides, my goal for the year is to get faster. And if this is my starting point, things are looking good!
My theory is that a conspiracy took place to have someone hit me in the back with a pipe while I was
skating training sleeping.
Either that, or I’m just getting older. This is the way my back used to feel for a couple of days after playing 80 minutes of rugby at 2nd row. That was one of the major factors in stopping–mostly because I was not much value to any team at any place other than 2nd row.
Now this is the way my back feels for 5 days after playing rugby in general.
The Missus says I need to focus on engaging my core and pushing my hips forward before coming into contact. So…a head’s up…
The next time we are about to collide, don’t be surprised if I ask you to hold up a second while I transition from tree, to down dog, then slowly roll my spine into the correct position and get centered.
Then you can run over me and it won’t hurt quite as bad.