Our Own Private Idaho

Coffee is a big part of our routine. Every morning we start a pot and can hear and smell it brewing throughout the 150 square feet we now call home. It’s like a Folger’s commercial except we can’t fully stretch in our small space and generally don’t smile until after we’ve had a cup or two. With the kids still sleeping, coffee time is when we can sit and talk, map out our next stops and, now that Labor Day has passed, plan for school.

BigSchool opened for business in Osburn, Idaho, a tiny town about twenty miles from Coeur d’ Alene. The skinny neck of northern Idaho was supposed to be just a pass-through en route to Washington. But its clear rivers and trestle bridges and dark forested mountains were too good for just a drive-by. So we stopped for two nights, and were glad we did.

Osburn is nothing fancy; it’s quite the opposite, a rural town where the trees are bigger than the houses and people make their livings from silver mining, logging, and a trickle of leftover tourism from its historic neighbor, Wallace.




Wallace, the so-called “center of the universe” looks like a movie set. Two story brick buildings–an old Wells Fargo bank, City Hall, and a silver mining museum–are joined by brothel-themed restaurants and “saloons.” (While the mining continues, we assume the brothels are no longer operable). Set in a valley, Wallace (and Osburn) is surrounded by mountains, some with gray mining scars but most densely covered in pines. The towns also sit along the Trail of the Coeur d’ Alenes, a smoothly paved bike path that follows the Union Pacific Railroad for more than 70 miles. We took a ride down a few miles of it, and marveled at the Silver Valley sunset. 


IMG_20150909_193415Wallace also has a sweet public (Carnegie) library, where we spent many hours reading and getting started with our 3rd and 6th grade math and ELA instruction.


When BigTrip began, we had grand ideas about how the freedom and adventures of the road would inspire the kids to write in their journals. We pictured them curled up with their notebooks, enthusiastically jotting down new insights and ideas about our travels. Motivated by the beauty and excitement of the trip, they would draw pictures, write their own stories, make their own mark, anyway they wanted! By the time we started real “school” in September, they would already be accustomed to writing every day.

This did not happen.

So far, they have made a list of all the cats and dogs we’ve met in the various parks, campgrounds and homes we’ve visited. The newest members of this list are Butch, Ollie, Chica and Moe, all members of the gracious Fuentes family that put us up for a night in Spokane (thank you!).


Their journaling efforts, combined, consist of an entry from July 27 remarking that we had ice cream and an entry from July 28 noting the equally exciting news that we met two cats (cross referencing their extensive writing to date, it appears these cats are named Rip and Shadow).



The first morning of school, the kids got up and sat at the table, staring blankly at their new notebooks and texts. Our first lessons (or sessions–we’re not sure yet what to call them), went okay. We think. Like teachers in their first year, we are a combination of excited and unsure. But we know enough to recognize the need for a schedule, lesson plans, and a large dose of patience as we transition from parents to parent-teachers. Any romantic notions of self-directed, eager, and engaged kids have been replaced by deep appreciation and gratitude for their teachers back home, and for all the teachers out there working under much more difficult conditions than we will face.

Here we go. We can do this, although it might take a second pot of coffee…

About Elena Silva

Out here on the road, trying to make the most of a year in close quarters with my three favorite people...
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3 Responses to Our Own Private Idaho

  1. Nancy Segal says:

    I’ve recently re-discovered Radio Diaries, a series of podcasts that my cousin Joe Richman has been doing for several decades where people document their lives and adapt the material for “All Things Considered” documentaries. He has one about the genesis of the Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit” and another on Nelson Mandala during his prison years, each one of them incredibly educational about all aspects of life. I was thinking the other day that I should have home schooled my kids (that thought lasted for a nano second) and had them listen to all of these podcasts. So if you are looking for things to listen to – google radio diaries. You might want to screen them first as some might not be appropriate for kids (Strange Fruit involves lynching in the south)


  2. In case you didn’t see it under the ‘Who we are,’ I’m requesting a kid post. Doesn’t have to be long, doesn’t have to be spelled correctly or have excellent grammar (Mom and Dad get to overrule that one). KID POST, KID POST, KID POST!!!!!


  3. D Will says:

    This looks sooooo fun. I’m so jealous.


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