Have School, Will Travel

According to Georgia law, a home study program (i.e. homeschool) must have at least one hundred eighty days of instruction within a twelve month period. This year we started school on Labor Day, which is a little late for Georgia schools. The longer it takes us to fill our quota of 180 days, the farther our school year will stretch into summer, regardless of how much material we cover.

None of us want to be having school in July, so we look for ways to be creative in what counts as "school", while still remaining within the law (of course!). We are not bound by a school building, so trips that might normally be classified as strictly vacation can be partly counted as "field trips". I try not to stretch this too much. For example, I'm not going to call our Thanksgiving Day get-together with my family a social studies class on intergenerational relations. However, with a little intentional planning and instruction we can check a few days off the school calendar that might otherwise be "lost" to vacation.

This Thanksgiving we spent a week in Wisconsin and Minnesota visiting my family. However, were able to dedicate some time toward educational endeavors.

There was stargazing with Uncle Rod and his telescope. We saw a double star, the open star cluster Pleiades, the Andromeda Galaxy, and we were able to get an amazing view of Jupiter and its moons.

My dad (aka "Pop") dissected an abandoned paper wasps' nest for the kids.

Thankfully, no one was home.

 

He also performed a dissection of a reptile specimen. Some found this fascinating...

 

Others found the blood a little disconcerting, at least initially...

 

And others just thought it felt suspiciously like school interrupting his vacation.

 

I have fond childhood memories of picking milkweed pods and tearing them open to reveal their silky white fluff. The boys had never seen any before, so King drove us in the Gator to find some along the side of the road.

I allowed Mike to drive us back, after he promised not to drive too fast.

I'll take it easy, Mom.

It takes great effort and concentration to drive slowly.

 

Our whole family was able to spend a day at my brother's school. The boys attended classes with their cousins and Curtis and I observed the school's very talented teachers in action. The boys reported that "it wasn't that different than homeschool". (Apart from having more than one classmate and the teachers not being their mother, I suppose). I took their assessment as a compliment.

Country Stars

As I wrote about before, our attempt to study the stars near our home in the city was a little disappointing. However, I was excited to discover that our local astronomy club was holding their annual "Star Party" only a few days later.

I had never been to a "Star Party", or even heard of one before. This particular event was a week-long stargazing marathon. The venue for the party was one of the club's dark-sky locations, well away from the city lights. The astronomy club's website stated that "Beginner astronomers" were welcome and they would have their twenty-four inch telescope set up for visitors to look through. It sounded perfect!

We invited another homeschooling family (Casablanca) to join us and made plans to head out one night after work. It was a two hour drive just to get there, and with the Atlanta traffic reaching its peak about the time we were able to leave, there was no way we could get there before dark. But hey, it's stargazing, it's supposed to be dark, right? So, we decided to wait out the traffic and have dinner in the city before we left.

"Of course, you can trust us with your $40K telescope!"

 

"Look! We're starfish! Get it?"

Finally, with our bellies full and the traffic cleared out, we were off. At some point along the two hour drive, our friends texted us, asking if we had read the "Star Party Etiquette" document they found on the website. It contained rules like "arrive before dark" and "no white light after sunset". My visions of super-friendly astronomers welcoming us to their party were rapidly being replaced by images of angry astronomers telling us where to stick our headlights.

The closer we got to our destination the more nervous we became about how exactly we were going join this Star Party without everyone there hating us. We turned off our headlights once we made our final turn onto the road where the venue was supposed to be located, trying to avoid inadvertently blinding all the dark-adapted party-goers. When they said the party was at a dark-sky location, they weren't kidding. With only our running lights to guide us, we crept along the road, looking for the entrance in the darkness.

Our question of "How to approach the observing site without disturbing everyone?" was answered for us. You see: astronomers are very serious about maintaining their dark-sky conditions and they know all about people like us white-light-blasting-late-comers. They were ready for us. When we finally arrived at our destination, we were greeted by a closed and securely locked gate, bearing a sign that read

Gate closed: Sunset to Sunrise

Everything around was dark and silent. I think even the crickets stopped chirping when we pulled up.

Needless to say, I felt horrible about dragging everyone out there to the middle of pitch-black-nowhere only to be locked out of the event. And what now? Do we park the cars outside the gate and try to find the "party" on foot? But as my slightly annoyed better-half pointed out:

What? Are we really going to walk who-knows-how-far into the pitch-black darkness with four kids and no idea where we are going? ... And then we are going to grope our way in the pitch-black darkness onto a field full of strangers, who are already annoyed that we are arriving late, and then try to find a place to sit amongst them? ... And then we are going to ask if we can look through their telescope? No, we are not.

We decided to stay where we were for a while and see what we could see. We pulled off to the side of the road, right there in front of the locked down "star gate". We spread out our blankets and lay down in the back of our pickup truck. Even though our Star Party and telescope plans were a bust, the night sky itself did not disappoint. Our six stars from a few nights before were joined by thousands of others. It was truly awe-inspiring. Although, I'm fairly certain we didn't need to drive two hours each way to do it.

Montana Vacation: Part IV

We've been back from our vacation out West for almost two weeks now, and I've been busy adjusting to "real" life in the city again. We also started homeschool this week (more on that coming soon), and I've spent the past few weeks preparing and adjusting to that new schedule, too. The relaxed pace, open spaces and natural beauty of Montana seem so far away.

We spent most of our time on the ranch, but we also took a couple of trips down to Yellowstone National Park.

We visited the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, just outside the Park in West Yellowstone, Montana, where we viewed these allusive carnivores up close.

This big fella is Sam. The naturalist told us she can always recognize him by his dopey look and big lips hanging open.

Apparently, Sam's a mouth-breather.

Nakina showed us why you should not hang a bird feeder in your backyard in bear country.

Dude! Did you see that?!

The wolves were taking a siesta, so we were only able to catch the occasional head lift.

"Oh... hi."

On another day, we woke up early and arrived at the Park by sunrise.

We saw many elk...

"Where's my Grande Caramel Macchiato?"... and many, many buffalo.

"Oh, give me a home..."

This old boy was hoofing it up the road.

He looked so old and tired. I would have given him a hug, if it weren't for that whole "goring" thing.

We also took a lovely, early morning hike along the Yellowstone River Canyon.

A glacier left this huge rock behind.

Hmmm... what's this view missing?

I know! Let's block out the spectacular view entirely...

King heard me lamenting about my goofy looking mullet-hat-head and sweetly said,

It's not goofy. It's just "mom".

Thanks. I think.

Once we got up to the rim of the canyon, it was a nice, flat, easy hike.

It apprantly wasn't challenging enough for the boys, so they ran alongside, making a game of jumping sagebrush.

Later in the day, we stopped for a picnic lunch on the banks of Soda Butte Creek.

On another day, back in Big Sky, we took a short hike up to Ousal Falls.

Say that five times fast.

Finally, I'll leave you with another gorgeous view ruined, courtesy of our family.

I have no idea what's on King's lip.

More of the Fourth

I mentioned that we branched out a little bit from our Fourth of July traditions this year. Some were welcomed additions; others... not so much.

Happily, we got rid of our old tradition of getting covered in chigger bites every Fourth of July. Chiggers are microscopic pests that love to bite you where your clothing is tightest against your skin (like in your underwear). The resulting wound is insanely itchy and can last for weeks. Poor little Mike is most tormented by them, as you can see in this video from a previous Fourth of July:

**Warning: this video contains ball scratching**

But no more! After some research I came up with The Chigger Defense Plan: 1. Apply insect repellent daily, concentrating on your nether-regions. (I bought a deet-free spray because I am not crazy about spraying my kids with pesticide, especially on their grandchildren-producing parts. It stunk, but it worked. This deet free product also worked.) 2. Change clothes everyday. (No, this is not something we normally do.) 3. Take a bath or shower everyday. (No, this is not something we normally do, either.) I didn't intend on making so many embarrassing admissions here; but there it is, and it worked! Unfortunately, we had to find something other than incessant ball scratching to entertain us.

For this year's traditional Fourth of July tubing trip down the Toccoa River, I decided to shake things up and not apply sun-screen. I don't know why, because I'm usually the type who sits fully clothed in the shade wearing SPF 50. My reward for this lapse in judgement was that I was a walking Fourth of July decoration: bright red on one side and bright white on the other. All that was needed was a bit of blue to complete the look.

Let's hear it for the Red, White, and Blue!

Also, on our float down the river we stopped at a rope swing. I thought I'd give my kids a thrill and give it a go myself. (What?! Mom's gonna do it?!) I don't know about thrilling, but it definitely gave everybody a good laugh. I swung, holding on just long enough to reach the lowest point on the pendulum. I then dropped like a bag of bricks and did a sprawling face-plow through the water with what remained of my forward momentum. I did that twice - just to make sure. I also got a lovely rope-burn on my hand from my grip being violently ripped from the rope by my own body weight. It was a good little reminder: "Um... In case you hadn't noticed: YOU ARE NO LONGER TWELVE!" Noted.

On to more pleasant things...

As I've mentioned before, Curtis and I are not traditionally the "get up and go" types. However, we are not totally blind to the value of a family activity that requires more effort than just wedging our butts in inner-tubes for two hours. So we went on two Fourth of July hikes this year. Both trails ended at waterfalls (we like a good payoff to our exertion).

Our first hike took us to Fall Branch Falls, a lovely three-stepped waterfall.

It was a steep hike, but even after we reached the top of the falls, the boys still wanted to go farther. Curtis and I did not. So Curtis told them the tree that had fallen across the trail where we had stopped was called a "bear guard", and if you went beyond it a bear would eat your balls off.

Contemplating ball-eating bears.

If that news wasn't bad enough, Mike found out that he indeed had to carry his own water bottle.

Life is cruel.

King would have liked to spend more time exploring the top edge of the waterfall, but I wouldn't let him. I'm such a drag.

"What?! It's like you think I'm gonna slip and fall to my death, or something?"

But it all ended well. The waterfall was conquered and everyone was happy.

McRibs and Mr. Universe

As we were leaving, we spotted a sign telling us good things lay a mere 500 feet ahead!

The peanuts were already boiled and the water was already bottled; apparently, there just wasn't enough time for conjugating verbs.

A good ol' mountain gal served us up some boiled peanuts on her front porch.

There were antiques for sale on the front lawn. I had my eye on a set of four jadeite mugs; however another woman said she already had dibs on them. She asked if I wanted to "fight" her for them. (What did that mean?) I politely declined. The "boil peanut" lady came to my rescue, and peacefully offered me another pair from her own private stash in her kitchen.

No punches were thrown in the procurement of these mugs.

Before we set out on our second hike, we stopped at a little mountain general store to get provisions for a picnic lunch. A kind woman made us chicken salad sandwiches and cooked Mike a grilled cheese on her stove behind the counter.

A quintessential hillbilly kept watch out front. I stole a picture through the front door.

It was a long (but beautiful) drive along forest service roads to reach our hiking spot on the Appalachian Trail.

We ate our lunch at the foot of Long Creek Falls.

This one was a keeper and was the perfect end to a wonderful weekend.

A Traditional Fourth of July

I remember when my eldest son, King, was in kindergarten he had to fill out a take-home sheet telling about his family's "traditions". We were hard pressed to come up with anything other than things like, "We pray before meals." and "We get together with friends and family on holidays." (although, even that is not a given). We ended up writing, "We watch AFV every Sunday night." Our lameness was embarrassing.

We've come a long way in our traditions since then and one of my favorites is our yearly trek up to the North Georgia Mountains to celebrate Independence Day with Curtis' parents at their cabin.

Our weekend is filled with relaxing at the cabin, floating down the Toccoa River in neon-pink inner-tubes, and shooting at stuff* off the back deck.

*only inanimate objects were harmed in the making of this photograph.

But on Saturday night, we head down to Lake Blue Ridge for the fireworks show.

Nana always buys the boys Sno-Kones (and whatever else they have a hankering for, God bless her).

 

There are plenty of rednecks...

Oh...Hi, Honey!

Grandma Jessie comes, too. She's so awesome, I can't even tell you.

Honestly, this little town has one of the best fireworks shows I've ever seen. I'm sure there are bigger productions out there, but what sets this show apart is your proximity to the launching pad.

"BEYOND THIS POINT" is not totally off limits; it is actually packed with people. The yellow caution tape that marks "THIS POINT" is really just an insurance line, I think, where the fireworks company's liability ends and anything that happens to you is your own fault. There is another line even closer that you really can't cross. It's where the magic happens and is also where the firetrucks and ambulances park.

What does all this mean? These fireworks are CLOSE! Even behind the first caution line (where we sit) there is an added sense of danger to go with the inherent thrill of the fireworks. If you lay on your back and look up (which is what the boys and I do), the fireworks fill the sky above and you feel like they are going to fall ON you. It really is amazing.

Obviously, this doesn't do it justice.

We had a wonderful weekend making new memories and maybe even starting a few new traditions (which I hope to tell you about soon).

What are your favorite family traditions?

Urban Nature Walk

Mr. Weasel and I are not city people. Nor are we explorers. We are quite content site-seeing from our semi-surburban front porch. Leave it to our hip friends at Casablanca to get us out and about to enjoy the urban backroad of Atlanta known as the "Beltline Corridor".

Three Littles in a Big World. 

 

Woven Willow Hut with a Swing.


"Oh, Hi. Welcome to my hut. Please don't touch anything; we don't know where it's been."

 

Through the Willow Nest Window

 

City Sisters

 

Jethro came with his short legs for the long walk.

 

Everybody say, "BACKHOE!"

 

So many treasures to be found. "Look, Mom! Dried mud!"

 

Such a lovely evening with friends, but it's getting dark and Mama's getting nervous.

Daffodils Make Me Happy

I planned a field study to the Botanical Gardens. We would sit amongst the daffodils, read Wordsworth, and King would sketch.

 

 

It sounded so perfect.

However, as so often happens, a fresh new setting led to fresh new distractions; and poetry pushed beyond the most literal ("Daffodils make him happy.") was merely frustration.

"I don't KNOW what he's talking about! ...Daffodils?"

I wish I had left it at that.

"Yes, daffodils make him happy. Now, let's get out the sketchbook and get to know one for yourself."

 

Surely there was more to the poem, but it wasn't mine to give. I pushed too hard, explained to much, and as a result King began to loathe my words, my questions, and perhaps even the poem itself. Even with all my good intentions, I had achieved the exact opposite result from the one I wanted.

One of my favorite things about Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education is that she rightly places all inspiration and knowledge in the hands of the Divine Teacher. I may put King in the presence of daffodils, and place Wordsworth before him, but I cannot force him to "drink" the ideas therein. I must quietly stand aside and let God reveal what He will in His own time and in His own way.

For he is rightly instructed; his God teaches him. Isaiah 28:26