Mount Saint Helens

While we were on our vacation visiting family on the west coast, we took a day to visit Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington.

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It was a very cloudy and foggy day, so we did not have spectacular views of the mountain, but the clouds did part long enough for us to get a glimpse into the crater. The girls (and adults) were appropriately impressed. The kids did the Junior Ranger activity offered here at MSH. First, we watched a movie about the 1980 eruption, which complimented a video we watched back at home before we left for this trip. It talked about the events of that day in May but also the smaller, crater-building eruptions that took place over the next few years after the big one. We saw the lava dome grow and the crater glacier change size and shape. It was very interesting. Next, we attended a ranger presentation. The ranger discussed the changing shape of the summit and crater, showing us before and after pictures and also pointing out the rebuilding sequence that has since occurred.

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After the ranger signed their booklets and they finished the activities inside, we noticed that the sun had peeked out and that we might be able to see into the crater from the observatory. We went outside and hiked up to the outdoor observation point, and did manage to see it for a brief minute or two before the clouds moved back in.

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Finally, the girls went back in and were sworn in as Junior Rangers. They got their pins and trading cards, plus a certificate signed by Ranger Grace. I bought them each a patch, too. We had remembered to bring our National Park Kids Companion Books along, so they also got stamps in those. Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled

DuPage Children’s Museum

We visited the DuPage Children’s Museum about a year ago, the last time we visited my sister in Chicago. Today we returned for another visit. It was just as much fun as it was the last time. O7 and my nephew, J2, had a great time painting with water and playing with the ball ramps. We also checked out the water table:

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The kids experimented with the wind tunnel, made circuits, blew enormous bubbles (big enough to stand inside!), read books, and played Train Station with some other kids. It was a great day, and they definitely exercised their brains as well as their bodies.

Happy Birthday

S8 is now S9. We celebrated her birthday in Florida at Legoland. DH, O7 and I gave her a sketch book and two books: Greek Myths and King Arthur and his Knights. She dove right in to the books and finished both before we returned home.

Here we are, driving to Tampa to take my brother to the airport. S9 is reading one of her books and O7 is reading about types of shells. She found a free pamphlet at one of the shops near our beach condo, and asked to take it along so she could learn which shells were in her bucket.

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Lincoln’s Boyhood

We recently visited Evansville, Indiana with DH, who had to go there for work.

Lincoln's Boyhood Brochure

While dad was working, the girls and I made a side trip to Abraham Lincoln’s Boyhood National Memorial, just 45 minutes from our hotel. The park was really easy to find, and we ended up being the only ones there that morning.  The ranger seemed kind of shocked to see us pull in, to be honest. It was kind of funny. But he was friendly and helped us get our Junior Ranger booklets. Most national parks have a Junior Ranger program, which is really neat. The kids complete several activities in a booklet (which they get to keep! bonus!), then there are often other activities like attending a ranger program or picking up trash, etc., and then they get pins and/or patches to show they are Junior Rangers for that park. We’ve already earned ones from Gold Rush National Park in Seattle and the Grand Canyon North Rim. The kids think they’re fun and they are a lot more engaged than I remember being when my parents slogged us through national parks ad nauseum.

Proof:

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Here’s the visitor’s center, where we started. We saw a 15 minute movie narrated by Leonard Nimoy about Lincoln’s time in Indiana (he lived here from age 7 until he was 21). It was very interesting.  I didn’t know (or didn’t remember) that Lincoln’s mother died when he was 9, and that his father was remarried to a woman who had three other children.

Also very interesting: Lincoln was homeschooled.  Actually, he was pretty much unschooled.  They only had one book, the bible, until his stepmother brought three more books with her when she moved to Indiana with the Lincolns.  The film said that Lincoln probably had about a year’s worth of “schooling” over his lifetime.

Here is a view of the visitor’s center:

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Each of those “panels” on the walls of the visitor’s center are a carved relief with one of Abe’s famous quotations etched above.  Here is one:

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The park is not overly large, but much of the important stuff is outside. We decided to walk to the knoll where Lincoln’s mother is buried and then hike the memorial trail that loops past the Lincoln family’s farmsite. First we checked ahead in the books to see if there’s anything in particular we would want to pay attention to on our hike to the Pioneer Cemetery and the Trail of Twelve Stones.

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Here we are, looking across the parking lot at the Tallest Flagpole In Indiana. It’s 150′ high.

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View of the visitor’s center from the flagpole/knoll:

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Bonus: the daffodils were in bloom! Ours at home are still just little shoots.

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So first we checked out the cemetery. Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Abe’s mother, is buried here. So are many other pioneers from that time. This area had an outbreak of “milk sickness”, which people got when they drank the milk of a cow who had ingested white snakeroot plants. A toxin accumulated in the cow’s milk and most people who got “milk sickness” died from it. Now that we know what causes it, it’s not as deadly (or common). But back then, it was just a deadly, mysterious illness.

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We wrote a few answers in our booklets, then decided to head up the Trail of Twelve Stones.

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There are twelve rocks, stones and/or bricks positioned along the trail and each one has some kind of significance in Lincoln’s life. For some reason, I only photographed ten of them. But we found all twelve. We also found the family’s farmsite, which has a little monument on it.

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I guess during the summer months, they have people working on the farm and running it just like it would have been in Abe’s time. Today, though, it was just us and some chickens.

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O7 found a nice walking stick, though. She carried it the entire rest of the way.

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Here’s where the stones begin:

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This is the very rock Lincoln stood on when he delivered the Gettysburg Address:

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It was pretty chilly out, but the sun felt nice and the cool air was refreshing after the long car ride.

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We hiked about a mile total, which was perfect.

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Then O7 insisted I photograph her at the flagpole, but with her walking stick this time.

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The kids took their books inside and finished the rest of the activities, and then we got our Junior Ranger pins. I let them each pick out a postcard, and we also bought a little souvenir activity book about Abraham Lincoln that they could do in the car.

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Trading Cards from Lincoln's Boyhood

Kalahari 2013

We just returned from a week-long stay at the Kalahari, a large, indoor waterpark and hotel/convention complex in northwest Ohio. This was our fourth year attending an annual homeschool/unschool conference there.

The first time we went to this conference, O7 was 3 and S8 was 4. We didn’t go to any of the scheduled activities, just hung out in the waterpark with another family.

The second year, we participated in the family dance and maybe one workshop (they are called “funshops” here!). I think we also attended the carnival.

Last year, we played the Fairy Godparents game and the girls hosted a funshop called Elementary Ballet Steps. S8 (then S7) also did the talent show: she played Jingle Bells on her violin. We went to the movie night and the family dance, too.

This year, we did all those things plus the Nerf War and a meetup for 18″ dolls (i.e. American Girl dolls). Last year, S-then-7 was 48″ and could go on all of the slides, but O-then-6 was just 44″ and could only do about half of them. (She also had to wear a life jacket the entire time, even though she was a pretty good swimmer.) This year, they’re both over 48″ so (a) no life jackets and (b) all the slides are open to us now! We went on pretty much everything, other than the single-person toilet bowl slide. Because ewww.

This conference is wonderful for kids and parents alike. While I never identified as an unschooler as such, I am beginning to see that we are more along those lines than I originally thought. It was my mistaken impression that unschoolers did nothing but play video games and watch media all day long, but that’s not necessarily the case. I assumed that, because we are kind of scheduled (violin, swimming, art classes, science classes at the museums, etc) we didn’t “qualify” as unschoolers. And truthfully, I really don’t care; I’m not looking for a tribe or a label or a clever word to describe what we’re doing.

On closer examination, though, I suppose we do qualify as such, after all. We don’t really follow a curriculum, other than the Suzuki method for violin. We learn very organically and in a very unstructured way. We learn because we want to, not because we “have” to. Well, except for violin. But that’s a strange and sticky topic we’re kind of grappling with at the moment.

Meanwhile, I am exposing the girls to as much as I can possibly squeeze in while they’re still young and their minds are still wide open. Soon, they will start to focus on specific things and have narrower interests, and that’s okay. I don’t think “well-rounded” is necessarily a good thing. It means you’re a vague generalist, and you don’t really have a firm grasp of any one thing. Now, many people argue that you’re supposed to save that specialization for college. But I don’t agree. If you find something you’re interested in, why wait? Why not just jump right in and learn now? Why does someone else have to give you permission to learn it? That’s just ridiculous.

Hershey

The girls and I accompanied DH on a trip to Bloomsburg, PA this weekend. While he went into the plant for work, we took a side trip down to Hershey, PA to visit Chocolate World.

Chocolate World is the most-visited corporate headquarters in the world, according to one of the guides we met during our time there. It was built to accomodate the large number of tourists and visitors who wanted to know more about how Hershey chocolate was made.

We splurged on the Chocolate Enthusiast’s package, which got us HERSHEY’S Create Your Own Candy Bar, HERSHEY’S Really Big 3D Show, HERSHEY’S Chocolate Tasting Adventure, and HERSHEY TROLLEY WORKS.

We were just in time for the Big 3D Show, which combined a live actor with a 3-D film and presented the history of Hershey’s Chocolates.

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Apparently, Mr. Hershey tried several times to break into the candy business: he set up shops in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago- all with heartbreaking failure. He was a caramel maker, but it seemed no one was very interested in caramels. Then he discovered milk chocolate, and began dipping his caramels in it. They sold like hotcakes— in England. So he went over to England to find out why they were so popular there. Turns out that people would suck the chocolate until it was gone, then discard the caramels! He came back to the states and started making milk chocolate. Due to high costs of raw ingredients, Hershey located his factory in an agricultural location in Pennsylvania so he could have access to fresh milk. He also bought a sugar plantation in Cuba and grew his own sugar. The rest, as they say, is history.

After the show, we went for lunch, then did the Chocolate Tasting adventure. That was really interesting. We got to sample milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and artisan chocolate with different amounts of cacao. We noted the texture, “snap” (milk chocolate does not make a sound when you break it, but dark chocolate does), and aftertastes when you let the chocolate melt on your tongue. It was fun and very informative.

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Next, we took a quick ride on the Hershey history ride, which reminded me a lot of the Space Mountain ride at EPCOT. It was a lot of glitz and sound but showed a simulation of how chocolate is made in the real factory.

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After that, we went on our trolley ride. The trolley takes you into the town of Hershey, and we discovered that Mr. Hershey was a very charitable man who gave back a lot to the community he literally built with his own hands (okay, his own money, but who’s counting?) His school is still in existence, and helps over a thousand underprivileged children each year. We got to see the inside of Founders Hall:

At founders hall

The streetlights in the town all look like Hershey Kisses, and the gardens of Mrs. Hershey are public parks for everyone to enjoy. We really enjoyed the trolley, especially since we got several samples of free chocolate.

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Finally, we did the Make Your Own Chocolate Bar activity. There is a room with several touch-screen terminals, at which you can select your bar base (milk, dark or white) plus up to three add-ins: chocolate chips, dried raspberries, pretzel bits, toffee crunch, etc. Next, you enter the factory (and you have to wear an apron and hair-net, too!) and watch your bar go through the automated production process. It travels along a belt and gets the add-ins, a top coat, and then goes through the dryer. While it’s setting, you can go into another room of touch-screens and make your label. FInally, your bar is done and it gets packaged with the label you designed. Very cool!

Our make-your-own bars on the belt

O6's bar getting choco chips

Waiting for chocolate bar add-ins

Of course there was a chance to go through the shop and pick up some souvenirs and chocolates to take home- as if we hadn’t had enough chocolate already that day.

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