Friday, October 25, 2013

At the Shore

perfect day
We are home again and I'm really missing the beach. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it's currently 32° here. Our trip was just about perfect. We spent time walking the boardwalk, playing on the beach, checking out a retro arcade, eating good food, visiting a nature center, and watching far too many episodes of Chopped on the Food Network. EM has developed a Chopped addiction! Unfortunately for him, we don't have cable at home, so he's suffering from withdrawal.

builders at work
Friday was a beautiful day. We spent the morning on the boardwalk checking out the shops. Two years ago when we visited it was later in the season and most of the stores were already closed. This time we had a bit more available. At lunch time, we walked a few blocks back into the center of town and had a nice lunch. After a quick stop at the hotel for our beach gear, we hit the sand. Because the temperatures were much lower on our previous trip, the boys had not even set foot in the water. Now they finally had their chance to play in the sand and surf. EM was especially thrilled by the experience. He could barely contain his excitement. JT built a very elaborate castle and town along the edge of a puddle at the high tide line. The beach had very few people on it. It was a school day and the numbers did pick up a bit after 3pm, but mostly we had lots of room to spread out. We headed back to the hotel, had supper, and hit the pool. More Chopped episodes and we were ready for bed.

salt water marshes
Saturday morning we packed lunches and traveled south to the Wetlands Institute. Here's an excerpt from their overview page on their website:

We believe that people will value wetlands and coastal ecosystems if they understand how they work and why the health of those systems is so tightly intertwined with ours. That belief is the moving force behind all our programs.

JT has been reading a great deal about ecology in the last few weeks. He's starting to zero in on exactly what he wants to study in preparation for a career. The Wetlands Institute was a great place to further those interests.

The institute has an observation tower for a great view of the surrounding wetlands. They also have an aquarium and touch tank, a terrapin station, horseshoe crab exhibit, a gift shop, and a trail through parts of the marsh. We ate lunch in the picnic area while egrets went fishing nearby. In the afternoon, there was a 'creature feature' that focused on crabs. Brooke Knapick, the director of educational program development, did a wonderful job with the presentation. The four of us were the only attendees, but she still did a complete program, allowing us to handle several different crabs and other animals commonly mistaken for true crabs, such as hermit crabs and horseshoe crabs.

rescued terrapins
After the program, she told us about their terrapin conservation program and allowed the boys to hold some of those as well. Many times we find ourselves visiting places during the off-season. Sometimes it means we don't get to experience all of the things available at busy times of the year, but more often than not, we end up getting the full attention of staff members. This allows the boys to get all of their questions answered and not have to just be one in a crowd.

Probably the most exciting thing we saw at the institute was the feeding of Ollie the octopus. We arrived just in time to watch her work to open a plastic pretzel container to retrieve the yummy fish swimming inside. I had read many things about how smart octopi are, so seeing her in action was really cool. My husband wants a pet octopus now. As if our family wasn't weird enough already...

Sunday we had to pack up and come home. It was hard to leave the relaxation I was enjoying. Even though I took almost nothing to 'do school' the boys did plenty of learning.  The trip to the Wetlands Institute was educational, but even if we were not homeschoolers we would have visited. Learning is so much more than schooling for us. It is woven into everything we do.

Life is learning.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Meet Your New Overlords

I prefer my overlords with googly eyes.

Ever since our trip to Ocean City two years ago we have been planning to visit again. I've been watching online for a good deal. It came this week, so we made last minute plans to hit the road. I scheduled a light week for the boys to allow us to get packed. JT has been doing quite a bit of independent work on Thinkwell for math and his Coursera literature class, so I didn't need to do too much with him.

EM has been working his way through his new robotics book. On Wednesday we made the first major project at the end of chapter two. The Vibrobot was made from things that we had around the house: Styrofoam cup, wire, batteries, cork, pens, and a 1.5 volt motor. I love the fact that this book has projects that EM can easily do in a short period of time with great results. He was so excited when his vibrobot starting hopping around on the paper. He ran to find his brother to show him.

robot art

As the robot was moving around, EM started evaluating its performance. The book directions suggested using three markers. EM thought the vibrobot was moving a little too jerkily with three so he wanted to make it four in order to add stability. The end result was fantastic. I really like the fact that he was ready to jump right in there and hack the directions with confidence. EM struggles with some of his school work, especially the reading and writing, so it is great to see him finding a place where he can really shine.

I'm going to keep this week's post short since we are currently in the hotel at Ocean City and everyone is waiting for me. Next week I'll give a detailed post of our trip. We're going to be visiting the Wetlands Institute and will be exploring the shore.

Off to the beach!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Finding the Path

key to relaxation
We went on our annual fall camping trip last week.  As always, we enjoyed our vacation. For some reason, we all agreed that this was the best one ever. Maybe it was the perfect weather. Maybe it was the cleanest cabin with the most comfortable mattresses we have encountered on any of our trips. Whatever it was, we were in no hurry to come home.

Let's go explore!
We stayed at Moraine State Park in Western PA. This was our fifth year camping and our second stay at this park. We were trying to visit a different park each year, but Moraine had been our favorite so far and we wanted to go to Pittsburgh during our vacation, so it seemed like a good fit. We booked a cabin for four nights. We had a tiny bit of rain as we traveled to camp. The majority of the week was beautiful weather in the 70s. Thursday had some storms, but part of the day was clear.

PPG Aquarium
JT has recently shown interest in zoo careers. So it was convenient that we were already planning to visit the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium during the week. The Friday before our trip I suddenly had the idea to find out if someone at the zoo would be able to speak with him about career options in that field. As a homeschooling mom, I often find myself making phone calls that start like this, "I'm not sure who I should talk to, or if this is even possible, but here's what I'd like to do..." (insert crazy homeschooling mom idea here) This time I called the zoo and after going through my usual spiel, ended up connected with Margie Marks, education director at the zoo. She said she'd be happy to talk with JT during our visit.


I had him think of questions he'd like to ask before our meeting. Wednesday morning we sat down with Ms. Marks and she told us the path her career had taken to bring her to her current position. She also shared some tips for getting an internship at a zoo and things he should think about doing now to better his chances of success. After our meeting, we spent the rest of the day exploring the zoo and aquarium. If you are ever in the Pittsburgh area, be sure to take the opportunity to visit.

one of many bridges
The zoo closed at 5pm. We had plans to meet an old friend for dinner at 7pm, so we had some time to kill. We went into downtown Pittsburgh to visit the Point State Park because our friend had told us about an unusual visitor to the city. Parking was tight in the lot nearest the river. We had never heard about this particular state park before and found its location in the middle of a city interesting. Future trips will bring us back to see the Ft. Pitt Museum located inside the park.

you're the one
The reason we braved rush hour traffic in the city was floating in the river. A giant rubber ducky. Why we felt compelled to see this is unclear. I guess the novelty of a bathtub toy as big as my house played into the decision. But could you NOT go see it if you had the chance? When they are old men, my boys will probably tell stories about how their crazy mom made them walk even further when they were already exhausted from the zoo to see it.

view from our dock

Friday was bittersweet. We weren't ready to go home, but we were also going to spend the day visiting with a family of homeschoolers that we only see about once a year. We left the camp, had a great visit, and hit the long road home.

JT continued his exploration of zoo careers this week by reading, Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives, by Thomas French. He also started thinking about other job possibilities - park naturalist, ecologist, etc.

deep in thought
Today we attended a homeschooling program called Predators and Prey at our local state park nature center. The bulk of the program focused on food chains, webs, and pyramids. When we came home JT was inspired to start designing a card game with a food web theme. He often has these ideas and will work for a bit on something, only to lay it aside after a few days. When I pointed out that he might need a few changes, I expected his usual, "It's fine the way it is!" Tonight he said, "Mom, I'm serious about this one, so this is only a rough draft."

It looks like he is really starting to find his path for the future. These are just the  first steps, but it's good to see the journey has begun.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Can You Guess?

We are on vacation this week and have limited internet connectivity, so I will not be writing a full post until we return home.

In the meantime, I'll give you a few clues to let you guess where we are...

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Rivers converging.

30 foot rubber ducky.

Many pictures to follow!