Monday, August 22, 2016

Work Plans for the Week of August 22, 2016: Sharks, Osmosis, and the Boston Tea Party

We had a great first week back in our new school schedule, both productive and fun. The two-nights-in-a-row fencing schedule wore out both me and Will, but I know that my skills, at least, really improved on that second night with the first night's corrections fresh in my mind (I now have a much better en garde position, with my sabre better protecting my 3, and although my balestra is still pretty miserable, I can at least leave the ground with it now). The kids were just as furious as I'd hoped they'd be about our Skittles Intolerable Acts game, they dove into their Coding Games in Scratch assignments, they both got all of their work completed every day, although this one is now giving me trouble over schoolwork, sigh--

That's her personal sketchbook, NOT her math...
--and we still had loads of time for playdates at the local public pool, hiking and creek stomping, celebratory doughnuts, shark film festivals, goofing around, and game playing:
This is Munchkin, a game that Will and I really enjoy, although we haven't quite gotten the rest of the family into the fun, yet.
This week's Memory Work will consist of reinforcing the Thirteen Colonies and the Gettysburg Address, beginning "Paul Revere's Ride" (little do the poor little lambs know that I will be forcing them to recite the Gettysburg Address and "Paul Revere's Ride" in front of suitable locations on our trip, mwa-ha-ha!), reviewing fraction terminology, and working on facts from our sharks and rocks/minerals units. Books of the Day are again a hodge-podge of picture books, short non-fiction books, and novels that I simply think the children would like. Daily work includes one journal entry in cursive (Syd loves writing in her journal, but Will still does the bare minimum), progress through Coding Games in Scratch (they both love this one, and seem to enjoy creating their own games as well as playing the ones that others have created), and work in their Wordly Wise (it's Will who loves this one, and Syd who trudges through it as slowly as possible).

And here's the rest of our week!

MONDAY: Will's week in Math Mammoth is all calculating with fractions, while Syd is reviewing the four operations and the Order of Operations. Our math enrichment this week is an exercise in finding equivalent fractions using Cuisenaire rods and fraction strips--Will already knows how to find equivalent fractions, but she calculates that by dividing by the Greatest Common Factor or Multiplying by the Lowest Common Multiple, and I want to make sure that she can SEE these fractions, as well. Syd knows the definitions from our Memory Work, so even though she won't encounter fractions again in her Math Mammoth for a while, this might help her have the concept better cemented when they roll around again.

A lot of what the kids learn about the Battle of Lexington and Concord will be done on-site, when we visit there in a couple of months, and through conversation and lecture, so this week's history is actually a little less intense, even though this is one of my favorite chapters in the American Revolution. We'll be reading/listening to the relevant chapters in From Colonies to Country several times, and on this day, we'll also be going over the events as we look at these animated maps of pre-Revolution America and the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

The kids are doing great with Song School Spanish, working through it independently and memorizing its vocabulary like champs. I'm still trying to figure out if we'll be doing Latin and/or Mandarin in our next school semester, so I'm happy that I have some independent language work for them to do while I contemplate and wait for further information.

Our sharks unit will be really interesting this week, as we're focusing on shark anatomy. The kids weren't into human anatomy last semester and so I dropped it, but this week I'll be sneaking some human anatomy back in as we study it comparatively with shark anatomy. Not on this day, though--on this day, the kids are going to study and memorize the caudal fin types, which are crucial to the positive identification of different shark species.

TUESDAY: There are several interesting reasons why sharks can attain neutral buoyancy, among them its oily liver, which is what we'll be looking at in detail on this day, as the kids revisit our previous liquid density lessons with this experiment in which they're going to attempt to obtain neutral buoyancy using oil, water, and a small plastic bottle.

For a lesson on osmoregulation later this week, the kids will need to understand osmosis and diffusion, so I've set that up as a series of separate lessons. We'll watch the Khan Academy videos, which explain them pretty well, although the set-up to the osmosis lesson is misleading, in my opinion, and then set up two different demonstrations to revisit later this week, one on diffusion that requires us to make several petri dishes of clear gelatin, and one on osmosis that requires us to put several eggs in a vinegar bath in order to strip away their shells.

Playgroup was cancelled last week due to bad weather, so everyone will be extra excited to get back to it this week! We came out of that weeks-long rainstorm into gorgeous temperatures, so I won't be surprised if it turns into an all-afternoon event--I'll bring along our fencing gear for our evening class, just in case.

WEDNESDAY: We'll review and discuss our From Colonies to Country chapters, then the kids will complete this lapbook page on John Adams as a placeholder for our further work on him. It's on my to-do list to preview that John Adams mini-series that was on HBO several years ago--I remember that I liked it, but I don't remember if it's suitable for children. I'm hoping that at least the Boston Massacre episode will be watchable.

We'll review the Khan Academy video on diffusion, then the children will measure the diffusion of several different liquids and solutions into the gelatin that we set up earlier. It's a simple demonstration, but should cement the concept into their minds.

This day's shark lesson is more a lesson on the human heart than it is sharks, but don't tell the kids! In order to understand how the shark's heart differs from the human heart, you have to understand how the human heart works, so that's what we'll be studying with videos and this coloring diagram. After you know that, then it's simple to see how the shark's two-chambered heart is different, since all it has to do is run the blood by its gills to oxygenate it. Simple and efficient!

THURSDAY: I made the kids watch part of the Democratic National Convention with me, but we were traveling during the Republican National Convention, so we're only now doing the relevant lesson in Election 2016. To help them understand the text, we'll look up clips and commentary on the two conventions, and then discuss them.

The kids have an art lesson with Matt, or sometimes me, every weekend, but I'm going to sneak in an extra art lesson on this day, since I've been wanting to do it for a while. There's a lesson in Three-Dimensional Art Adventures (which I received free from a publicist, which is why I have it before its publication date) that covers making reliefs out of air-dry clay and painting them, but the kids love Sculpey so much that I think we're going to try this lesson in miniature, using that and skipping the painting.

The text on igneous rock that we're reading on this day is very dry, but Will should be able to handle it, and Syd only needs to distill from it how igneous rock is formed. I'm still feeling out how to handle the rock collection and identification portion of this unit, as I'm finding it hard to organize, so I'm hoping that it will work to have the kids select igneous rocks from their personal collection, to be further analyzed and identified later.

FRIDAY: There's actually very little that the kids can do in advance in their Minute Man National Park Junior Ranger books, but every little bit counts when you're sitting in a national park, cooling your heels on a park bench and waiting for your kid to finish their work. Every word search that they do at home is a word search that they're not doing on that park bench!

The kids did read-alongs in Spanish using TumbleBooks last week, and it went okay, but for this week I've requested several juvenile Spanish language books from the library. It's tricky, because the text needs to be simple enough that the kids can pick up what's being said using contextual cues, but many books that simple also have the English language side-by-side, which is useless for this purpose as the kids will simply read the English. I've chosen some Sandra Boynton, Eric Carle, and Dr. Seuss that I hope will work well.

The kids didn't take as much footage of last week's creek stomping adventure as I'd hoped they would, so I don't know if they'll have enough to enable them to finish the last projects for their Girl Scout badges, but that's for them to figure out, not me!

Finally, we get to our osmosis demonstration and our explanation of osmoregulation! Fortunately, we have a perfect cell model right there in our chicken coop--the egg! After setting this project up on Tuesday, the eggs should be nice and shell-less by now, so the kids will be able to play with the process of osmosis and thereby understand how sharks don't a) shrivel up or b) expand to bursting in the ocean.

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: We didn't get all of the adventures done that we wanted to do last weekend, except for the shark move marathon (somehow we can always make time for lying in bed and watching sharks eat people!), and we're not going to have time for them this weekend, either, what with Pony Club and a concert that the kids earned by selling a butt-load of Girl Scout cookies over the winter. I'm a little bummed about that, because there are other summer adventures that I really want to do, as well, but when you actually take a vacation in the summer, not the fall as we usually do, then summer goes by FAST!

Friday, August 19, 2016

We're Obsessed with J.R.R. Tolkien

We are a family who has a nightly read-aloud.

Well, not nightly. We skip nights that Will and I have fencing, and many nights lately we've been choosing to watch the Olympics instead (who knew that women's weight-lifting would be so AWESOME!?!), and there are some weeks that we just forget about it entirely, but we always find our way back to it, because it's family tradition.

I don't remember what we read before The Lost World, but after that we read The Hobbit, and now we're reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, because of course.

I say "we", although it's Matt who, as a rule, does the actual reading out loud. The kids and I sometimes brush each others' hair, or work a puzzle, or fiddle with something quiet, or just sit and listen (although I am in serious danger of falling asleep if I just sit and listen--perhaps I need Matt to wake up and read to me when I'm perennially awake at 3 am!). A few weeks ago a publicist sent us a free copy of this Tolkien coloring book, and since then it's been the favored activity to do while listening to Lord of the Rings.

Because of COURSE!

Here we are from a few nights ago. Will and I are coloring pages from the Tolkien coloring book, Syd is playing with kinetic sand, and Matt is on the couch, reading to us.
This particular coloring book has actually sneaked into the rest of our days, as well, lately--here's a photo that I snapped of our work table one school morning. It wasn't until I was editing the photo that I noticed that while Syd is deep inside her Book of the Day, Will is totally working on a Tolkien coloring book page, the little rascal!

Years ago, I got the entire family into the habit of photocopying whatever page they want to color. I like to buy nice coloring books, particularly nice ones in the topics of history, biology and botany, and the arts and humanities, and I want to be able to re-use them. It's also nice because we copy our pages onto cardstock, which is really good both for high-quality markers and colored pencils. Here are some of the pages that we've completed in the last week or so:
Will: she chose this one for the giant crystals.
Syd, WIP
Syd, completed.
Although we pause often during the read-aloud for conversation or ready-reference, Will has lately become VERY interested in Tolkien, and so we've been exploring him more outside of our evening reading time. Matt and I gave her a bit of a summary of the Silmarillion when she noticed that she was coloring a page from it and asked about it, and she didn't mention it again for a few days, but the other day at fencing, when we had to go around and say our names and one interesting thing that we'd done this summer, one of the high school saber fencers said that he'd read the Silmarillion.

Well, it was ON.

One thing that I should mention right now is that the kids have not seen the Lord of the Rings films. Matt and I LOVE them--hell, I adore them!--but I am deeply adverse to letting a child see a film before she's read the books. Do you know how, when you read a book, the characters come alive in your imagination, and you know exactly what they look like? It doesn't happen that way if you've seen the movie first, I declare. I think that if you see the movie first, not only will the many subtleties in the book be spoiled for you, but you will forever read that book and picture the film's actors as your characters.

We did watch the Hobbit films after we finished the book, and although I attempted to pass on my great love for John Watson in the title role, everyone was disappointed in them. I have also screened the following resources that I'm going to share with you, and I let the songs pass, but I won't let the kids read anything that tells the plot of the Lord of the Rings further than we've read.

For Friends, my children are, as yet, unspoiled in the plot of the Lord of the Rings. I have done many things wrong as a parent, but this? My children are going to journey with Frodo, have nightmares about the Ring Wraiths, call out to Tom Bombadil for help, and fall in love with Sam.

This I am going to do right!

Anyway, here are some of the Tolkien resources that we've been enjoying. Some are for the kids, some for the adults, some for the whole family. Pre-screen them so that you don't spoil any plot points for your kids!

  • Following the Hobbit Trail. I haven't shown this to the kids, because it's full of spoilers, but it's a really cool infographic. You know that we love infographics!
  • Interactive Map of The Hobbit. This is based on the movie version, so you can play with this after you've read The Hobbit and seen the movies.
  • LOTR Project: Interactive maps, timelines, genealogies, and more!
  • Minas Tirith paper model. The entire family is going to have to work on this one together.
  • Astronomer Recreates the Middle Earth Solar System: This will be cool to bring up when we're studying astronomy next semester.
  • Our Fabric Wall Hanging. Have I shown this to you yet? I bought it as a present for the entire family after we finished The Hobbit, and it's hanging in prominence in our big family room.
  • Syd's Skirt. Here's what I did with the rest of that fabric!
  • "That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates." Friends, Tolkien sings this himself. It's a treasure.
  • The Tolkien Professor: They're a little dry for kids, but I enjoy these streamable lectures on Tolkien and his works.
  • The Tolkien Society. You can find more resources for studying and teaching Tolkien here. I'd highly recommend going off on the rabbit trail of Old English and Anglo-Saxon runes, as this was a major interest of Tolkien. I actually studied Old English in grad school, and read Beowulf in its entirety in the original language, so I will for sure be encouraging the kids in this!
  • The Unexpected Party Menu: We are totally doing this when we eventually get a working oven again.
  • Elevenses and Then Some. Yes, it's another menu of Tolkien-themed food. I don't know if you know this by now, but my kids and I share a deep love of our noms, and we often happily discuss the hobbits' six meals and the necessity that we model ourselves after them on this.
  • Unit Study. If you want to turn this into a literature study, here's a complete one from Houghton-Mifflin.
  • Common Core High School Study. This is more focused on strategy than content, but it has some good, usable methods.

P.S. Two things:

1. I'm on the lookout for a vintage hardback copy of The Hobbit, the one with the pull-out map in the front. Tell me if you see one for a good price!

2. It occurs to me that although I've written about it on CAGW, I've never shown you here the hallway where I like to keep mementos of our travels. I stenciled a quote from The Lord of the Rings above it. Here it is!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Work Plans for the Week of August 15, 2016: Sharks, Intolerable Acts, and Molecular Modeling

NOTE: My vacation posts are on indefinite hiatus, as my external hard drive that contains them (as well as all of the other digital photos that I've ever taken) is currently in a repair shop where someone is attempting to recover its data.

Can I just whine at you for a minute here? I have my health, I have two great kids and a wonderful life partner, we have enough money to support ourselves and still be able to save for amazing vacations, one of which we went on just last month, and yet... I feel like I have suffered an inordinate number of losses this year. I have lost my grandfather. My best friend. And on top of that, several chickens from our flock have been killed this summer. Arrow incubated three adorable chicks, and they each died. We deeply wanted to adopt Thundercat, the kitten that Matt found in our yard, but he had feline leukemia and so the shelter euthanized him. And now, today, I have possibly lost my personal copy of every digital photo that I have ever taken of my children, my husband, our pets, my grandfather, my best friend, our vacations. All that I possibly have left are the small-scale jpegs of what I've posted on my blog. Small potatoes, I know, because I still have my children, and my husband, many of our pets, my memories of Pappa and Mac, and our vacations, and yet it still seems like a lot. It seems like I have less emotional reserves to deal with every new loss, no matter how minor, no matter how much it's nothing compared to my constant grief over Pappa and Mac.

So here's to hoping for a crackerjack computer repair person who is right this second recovering every single precious digital file in its pristine condition, and to a final few months of the year that contain no more living things or dearly beloved treasures ceasing their existence from my life. Okay?


We're back to weekly work plans this week. From the week after the kids got back from vacation through last week, I made them daily work plans, as each week the kids had too many time-consuming activities (a sleepover at the zoo! A two-day volunteer orientation at the Children's Museum!) to make weekly work plans that progressed our various units of study practical. Instead, they kept rolling with their Math Mammoth, I got them used to journaling every day, we began a sharks unit that we'll be continuing through the next seven weeks, we began a Scratch coding unit that we'll also be continuing--

--and, of course, we read a LOT of books:
Here, Will is reading about old bestiaries, and I've been sketching the animal descriptions for her: a beaver with a waffle tail, a beaver with a tail flat like a fish, and a dove with contemplative wings.
Time at the table with the kids while they mostly worked independently gave ME time to plan out our next seven weeks. I'd like to finish several units of study before our next big vacation, including our rocks and minerals unit (with a culminating project of identifying at least 30 of our own rocks and minerals from our personal collection), our sharks unit (with a culminating project of an actual shark dissection!), an easy-breezy Spanish language unit, and, of course, our American Revolution unit!
Although Will won't take her first AP or SAT 2 exams until eighth grade, I'm deliberately including that material in our relevant studies.
This week is the first week of this seven-week session. Books of the Day are a hodge-podge this week of novels that I thought the children would enjoy, a funny book on chemistry for Will, an interesting book on battlefields, also for her, a book on the history of architecture for Syd, a Peter Benchley memoir on the ocean for Will... see? A hodge-podge! Other daily work consists of journaling, consistent work in Wordly Wise (Will is almost done with Book 6, but Syd, who loathes memorizing spelling words, is still in the middle of Book 4. Fortunately, it's not a race!), and consistent work in Coding Games in Scratch, a Scratch programming book that I got from the library and that the kids both really seem to love.

Oh, and we're also super excited that CNN Student News starts back up again this week! Tradition holds that we begin each school day with Carl Azuz, and it seriously makes the transition to schoolwork so much easier. Also, we LOVE it!

And here's the rest of our week!

MONDAY: Will is a changed kid these days. It's been months since she pulled a full-on schoolwork rebellion; nowadays, she may not begin her work first thing in the morning, but every school day, she will wander over to the table at some point without prompting, and then buckle down and muscle through everything that I've assigned her. I am SO appreciative of how big of a difference it makes.

Of course, Syd now has to be coaxed/encouraged/bullied to get HER work done these days, so maybe schoolwork balkiness is simply something that strikes children of a certain age.

I tell you this because Will has already finished her math and history today--in Math Mammoth, she's spiraled back around to fractions for a short time, and in history, we listened to chapters 7-11 of From Colonies to Country, pausing often to discuss them (Will, for instance, always insists on learning England's point of view). Our entire week this week is focused on the build-up to the rebellion, primarily the Intolerable Acts, and I was pleased that Will naturally wanted to discuss the differences between the British and colonists' point of view, because today's enrichment activity is the online game Mission US: Colony or Crown. Will has played all of the Mission: US games before in her free time, but told me that she wouldn't mind a replay, and in fact, after she finished Colony or Crown, she asked if she could play the other Mission: US games, and I told her that she could, of COURSE.

I mean, gee, Mom, do you mind if I keep learning? What other answer could I possibly give?!?

Syd had a late start today, so she's only finished listening to the History of US chapters with us (although she did get a lot of work done on her Tolkien coloring book selection, and she has had a Percy Jackson audiobook glued to her ears for every second that we haven't been listening to History of US). She's finishing up decimals in her own Math Mammoth this week, and then will be ready to begin the 5th grade material next week.

Song School Spanish is pretty baby-ish for my 10-and 12-year-olds, but that means that we can zip through it. All I want them to do is get the vocabulary down, because if they don't continue Mandarin this fall, we'll start Latin, and they'll appreciate the cognate boost from knowing words from another Romance language. I'm a little unusual in that my pedagogical focus isn't necessarily on the children developing authentic accents and good conversation skills--if they continue Mandarin, then sure, and I'll hire tutors as needed to teach them that, but I think that another great foundation for language study is simply studying it, memorizing the vocabulary and understanding the grammar, conversing, yes, but also composing. If they have to work hard to correct their accent later, then so be it, but the possibility of that is certainly no excuse to not learn the language at all right now.

*Steps down off of soapbox.*

Math enrichment this week is something simple, just a sweet little origami heart tutorial, an easy way to review some visual fraction concepts and symmetry terminology. I'll continue weekly math enrichment throughout this seven-week unit, but most of our other subjects are going to be so rigorous that I can't promise that any of the math enrichment activities will be less sweet and simple than this one.

Our sharks unit is truly kid-led, and truly follows their passions. I originally signed up for the four-week sharks MOOC from Cornell just because the kids like animals, and it seemed fitting to study the ocean right before they left for California. By the end of the first day's lesson, however, Will had told me that now she wants to be a marine biologist instead of a lawyer, and by the end of the first week Syd told me that she wants to work with animals, maybe in a zoo, instead of being a hairdresser and ballerina.

It took us far longer than four weeks to complete the class the first time, with everyone working at her own pace, but now that we're done, we're going to be reviewing it again over the next four weeks, this time with plenty of hands-on enrichment activities to cement the concepts. After that, we'll spend 2-3 weeks on the big promised pay-off for this unit: the dissection of an actual shark specimen! Syd isn't so sure about this one, but Will is THRILLED.

On this day, we're reviewing the class videos that explain the ocean zones, and the regions that sharks inhabit. Using some online diagrams as a reference, the kids will paint and label a large chart for our wall that combines all of this information, and that can be populated in the future by cut-out pictures of the specific shark species that we study. We'll also, of course, be covering that information in our daily memory work in the car until it's nice and cemented into all of our minds.

TUESDAY: We'll review this week's chapters of From Colonies to Country, then the kids will complete this quick and easy lapbook activity on England's reasons for taxing the colonies, and put that into their American Revolution notebooks. I'm making the kids make their notebooks MUCH more organized than last year's World War 2 notebooks were, and my plan is to make them take the notebooks with us on our trip, and add information from the various sites that we visit to the relevant pages. We'll see how that goes...

Regardless, England's reasons for taxing the colonies will be added to our daily Memory Work.

We're still working on molecular modeling, because that concept is so important to the understanding of mineral formation, in particular, but this is our last week studying our chapter on minerals, so next week we'll be moving on to different geologic processes as we study igneous and sedimentary rocks. I want to make sure that the kids really understand molecular modeling, so we're basically doing the same model twice this week, once on this day with gumdrops and toothpicks, and again on the next day in an online simulator. My goal for the kids is that whenever they're presented with a newly identified specimen, they wonder what it's made of and how its molecules form. And then maybe they'll look it up!

Our town is basically made of rain recently, so it's likely that our homeschool group's playgroup will be cancelled, or will meet somewhere more mellow, like the library. I, personally, wouldn't mind the free time, I suppose--Will and I start fencing two evenings a week this week, and although I enjoy fencing, I'm a little bit dreading the time commitment.

WEDNESDAY: The kids by now know the types of taxes that England put on the colonists, and they understand England's reasoning, so to make sure they also understand the reasoning of the colonists, we're going to do one of my favorite history activities: role play! I will be England, the children will be colonists, and there will be Skittles involved (I wanted M&Ms, but the colonists overruled me at the grocery store, sigh...). I'm telling you right now that if the children are not crying in frustration by the end of the game, then Great Britain has not done its job.

We'll explore shark anatomy a LOT more deeply in the coming weeks, but external anatomy, particularly fins, is crucial to positive identification, so it's one of the first things that one should memorize. We'll be covering this in memory work, as well, but I want the kids to feel like they can apply their knowledge; fortunately, I used my staff discount at the Children's Museum to splurge on some Safari, Ltc. shark toys last week, so I'll be tasking the kids with identifying the external anatomy of each shark toy, AND with cross-referencing it with a species guide to evaluate the accuracy of each toy's depiction.

THURSDAY: Explore Rocks and Minerals is a really cool book with lots of fun activities, but it doesn't really go in the direction that I want to go for our unit. It does have one especially good reading selection on minerals, though, so on this day I'm asking the kids to read that selection, then they can choose an activity from the book that tickles their fancy. We might have to do this activity over the weekend, depending on what materials are required, and I won't push them if nothing seems to excite them, but hopefully they'll enjoy the chance to choose and complete something.

By this time, we'll have gone over the same old ground of England taxing the colonies that the kids are likely to be sick of it, but it's such an important concept that I can't help but cover it thoroughly. We'll have one last overview, then, this time in a super-fun Brainpop format.

We likely won't be doing a ton on the order of classification in our sharks unit, but we have studied it before, so since the class covers it this week, I'm taking the opportunity to have the kids review how the order of classification works, and to remind them that Wikipedia, of all places, is an excellent resource for studying it. When we do focus on a specific species, I'll expect the kids to be able to instantly find that species' order of classification for me, and to be able to explain it.

FRIDAY: Finally, we're moving on! Chapter 12 in From Colonies to Country introduces us to a few of the major players in the rebellion. The kids will use these lapbook pages to record the basic info for a couple of key ones, then they'll put them in their notebooks, to be added to later.

Since we're going through simple Spanish vocabulary so quickly, I'm already expecting the kids to be able to read some very simple Spanish books by this day. We'll search out a board book or an early reader with a lot of contextual clues, but the goal is to get the kids USING their knowledge.

This woodworking project might continue into the weekend, but that's okay. One of the stops on our road trip will hopefully be a beach in Maryland that is renowned for its shark tooth fossils, and I'm told that the best way to collect these fossils is to build the sifter that we're going to start building on this day. It's more of a practical life project than a shark biology project, then, but I think that the kids are going to start getting really excited about hunting for fossil shark teeth when we start to make it.

Syd actually won't have math on this day, since she should have finished her Math Mammoth year the day before. She'll start the next year's work right away on Monday next week, but on this day she gets a free day and a small celebration of her choosing: doughnuts. We'll likely buy them on our way to Will's destination of choosing: a local creek. Both kids need to work with their cameras to finish up Girl Scout badges--Digital Photographer for Syd, and Digital Filmmaker for Will. Will is pickier, so I left the choice up to her about what activity she'd like to film and make a movie out of for her badge and she chose creek stomping, so creek stomping is where we'll be, doughnuts in hand, for most of the day on this day!

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: Our only activity that's set in stone this weekend is Pony Club for Will, and yet it's actually going to be a weekend that's fairly packed with activity. Will is likely going to be leading Family Meeting for the first time, so god knows how that will go. Matt holds an art class for the children every weekend, and this weekend he'll also be giving them a lecture on pre-Revolution America. The entire family cleans the entire house on Sundays, so that I don't lose the rest of my sanity in the coming week. We also may break ground on the backyard tree house, if it ever stops raining. And if it stops raining for a good long while, we have tickets to Holiday World that the kids earned from cookie sales this winter!

I REALLY hope we get to Holiday World this weekend.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Cruise to Alaska Day 06: Hubbard Glacier

Although this day was an "at-sea" day, its highlight was to be over two hours spent at rest directly in front of the Hubbard Glacier, an extraordinarily active glacier that meets the ocean in an out-of-the way inlet. There's no road access to it, so it was a treat to be able to see it via the cruise ship.

But first, breakfast!
You will notice, I fear, that although I am still eating a large portion of healthy fresh produce, I have had to put that produce on a second plate to make way for my Official Breakfast Boyfriend of bacon, sauteed mushrooms, roasted tomato, and chocolate croissant. I have been working out extra hard since we got back, but it was worth it, my Buttery Chocolate Lover!
When we were finished, we FINALLY got to attend a presentation by our shipboard lecturer, Dr. John Kessler. His three lectures were scheduled for the final three days of our nine-day cruise, and after a while, every time I saw him, I was basically like, "OMG, when are you going to teach me something?!?"

I really like my learning!

John's lecture was, of course, freaking epic. He's an oceanographer whose interest is in the chemistry of the ocean; basically, as he tells it, he treats the entire ocean as a giant reacting flask, taking samples and studying the chemical processes that occur. He studies, in particular, the ways that biochemical reactions in seawater can create or dissipate greenhouse gasses. We learned about carbon reserves locked in the Alaskan permafrost, and methane hydrate fields that contain almost two times as much carbon as all current fossil fuels combined.

If you're an academic, you know that one of the things that you do when a fellow academic bro speaks is make damn sure that you've got some emergency questions to ask them. A lecturer's nightmare is to finish a presentation, ask, "Any questions?", and hear crickets. The only time that nobody has questions is if nobody paid attention. So just in case, you prep your own questions during their lecture--not softball ones, and just a couple, just enough so that you've got a back-and-forth and there aren't any crickets and the rest of the audience knows that *somebody* was riveted by that amazing lecture!

Anyway, you'll also know, then, that it's a testament to how seriously awesome John's lecture was that, like, everybody had a billion really cool questions for him afterwards. Like really. I had no idea that I was interested in the chemistry of the ocean, and now I'm all, "Dude, I wonder what's the melting point to warm up a methane hydrate field to release its methane?" Ooh, and does the methane have a liquid state, or does it go straight from solid to gas in the ocean?

I'm telling you--the chemistry of the ocean. Look it up.

Okay, and now that I've told you all the things about this really interesting lecture that I went to, here's a beautiful glacier to look at!

We passed through an ice field to get to the glacier, and it was studded with these gorgeous, huge icebergs. I did not over-saturate this image in post-processing--this is what this iceberg really looked like! So many colors of blue!
 Here's a view of the cruise ship kicking through that ice field:

And here's the Hubbard Glacier!

I couldn't even get the entire glacier in the camera frame, we were so close.
See all those different colors of blue and grey, and all the layers of dirt and rock and sediment? It's hard to believe that you're looking at four stories of glacier up there, and who knows how much below!

Hubbard Glacier is extremely active, and we were able to see it calve numerous times.
 If you listen carefully in the videos, you can hear thunderclaps every now and then. That's the sound of the glacier calving!

Although mostly we're all running around all over, the Hubbard Glacier proved to be a handy spontaneous meeting spot, and it turned into a party with a beautiful backdrop.
This is my favorite picture of us on our vacation, although as soon as she'd snapped it, a shipboard acquaintance who was taking it said, "Okay, now let's get one that's not silly."
We stayed on deck for the entire time that we were near the glacier, just soaking it in. You have to look at it with naked eyes to understand how big it is, but when you look at it through binoculars, you can take in all the intricate details that make it up.
We warmed up with wine and DVDs in our cabin for much of the rest of the afternoon, but that evening, we had a dinner with the other members of our university alumni travel group. One of the unanticipated pleasures of being without the kids in a space where everyone is without their kids is how the conversations don't revolve around kids! I now know more than I did about black bears and the Seattle Public Library, and I know what restaurant I'm going to eat dinner at the next time that I'm in Columbus, Indiana.

I also did not realize how long a single dinner can take when you're in a nice restaurant. Thanks to several courses (including my first beef tartare--I rate it "eh") and excellent conversation, dinner took something like THREE HOURS. We were barely in time to catch our cruise buddy Tim's piano concert!

Excuse the crappy quality of the photo, but it was really dark in there and I'd had some wine. Or champagne. Can't remember, but it was good, and the concert was amazing!
Not pictured: the IU flag that was hung on the ship in our honor that day, Matt's crouching death grip on the rails of Deck 10 because he's afraid of heights (which both amused people and made them feel sorry for him), the champagne that we were given and how Matt didn't knock out a lightbulb (this time) when he opened it, or my dinner, although I super wanted to take a picture of my beef tartare because it looked like dog food served in one of those Fancy Feast goblets.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Cruise to Alaska Day 05: Juneau

Fair warning: this day was AMAZING, and you're probably going to be as exhausted after reading about it as I was after living it.

Life is tough, yo!

Our view from breakfast--insert happy sigh.
I SUPER wanted to take this cable car up to the top of the mountain, but wasn't mean enough to so much as mention it to Matt. He would never have made it up with his sanity intact.
 Anyway, we had a pressing date with Juneau Whale Tours, on account of we wanted to see...
The scenery was really beautiful, too. See that glacier?
This pod of humpback whales was happily bubble net feeding, and so we were able to follow and observe them for the entire time.
Thanks to our shipboard naturalist's lecture on cetacean identification a couple of days prior, we were able to recognize the spouting as that of humpbacks (seriously, I have diagrams of spouts and copious notes in my travel journal), as well as their distinctive dorsal fins, humpbacks, and flukes.
You can see their dorsal fins and humpbacks well in this video, as well as hear the sound of their spouting:

The seagulls will also tell you where the whales are bubble net fishing.
You can identify individual humpbacks by the markings on their tail flukes.
 Even when we finally left the whales, the scenery was still beautiful, as we passed more glaciers in the distance, and the captain stopped to let us check out these sea lions on a buoy:

As sea lions do, they fought:

Whale watching is awesome enough to fill up one day, you might think, but this is ALASKA, where awesome is everywhere, all the time, so after whale watching, we went to check out Mendenhall Glacier!
This particular glacier is retreating very quickly, so we're lucky to have seen it while it's still around.
We also saw this little fellow, a first for me. Can you tell what it is?
 It's. A. PORCUPINE!!!

Here's the glacier up close, so you can see some detail.
And a little closer...
And now from far away, so you can see Nugget Falls to the right of it. We hiked over to Nugget Falls!
A tour guide had told us the story earlier on this day of Romeo, a wolf who preferred hanging around town to being with a wolf pack. He was sadly shot one day, but not before he'd apparently impregnated every female dog in Juneau, and THAT'S why I kept seeing wolfdogs around! I'd thought it was just some crazy Alaskan hipster trend!
The falls might not seem so big...
...until you get some perspective. This is my favorite photo of myself from this entire trip, me squatting in front of a glacier and a waterfall, feeling if the water is cold (it is!) and looking for interesting rocks.
Fine, I like this photo, too.
And this photo of us together, although it's really embarrassing when we try to take selfies, on account of we're SOOOO bad at it. Seriously, senior citizens have an easier time taking selfies than we do.
I don't know why I didn't get any good photos of Matt by himself! Here he is looking through the binoculars, though, so you know that he was at least present.
It's a shame, I suppose, that we're not into taking cheezy portraits together.
 Even after whale watching AND glacier spying, we still hiked around the town of Juneau for a while, because I had a burning desire to see the state capitol building.
Ummm.... this is it. Yay?
Finally, however, we trekked back to the ship, squeaking our way in just before all-aboard.
On deck five, our room usually has a gorgeous view, but it's also just below the level of the pier whenever we dock, so on port days we always have some sort of weird view like this.
We still had drinks and dinner and various shipboard activities ahead, but oh, my goodness, I was SO glad to get back to our room that night and see one of my favorite cruise ship sites:
Yep, that's our bed, with the sheets and blankets nicely turned down for us, the schedule of the next day's activities left at the foot, and honest-to-god chocolates on top. I LOVED this vacation!
Not pictured: any of the bald eagles that we saw, because I was too busy taking photos of whales, any of the stoplights in Juneau, because there weren't any, any of our friends, although I assure you that we're not the only people on this cruise, or either of the TWO chocolate croissants that I ate with breakfast, because one must keep up one's strength, mustn't one?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Cruise to Alaska Day 04: Wrangell

What do you do when your time zones are so off (FOUR hours at this point!) that you wake up starving an hour before breakfast begins?

You send your husband to the coffee bar to bring back coffee, pastries, and jam, and you finish watching Captain America in bed while you enjoy them!

We didn't have any organized excursions booked at this port, so here's what we chose to do!
We hiked Mt. Dewey, whose claim to fame is that John Muir once hiked here and built an interesting campfire at the top. Side note: when the kids got home and we were telling each other about our vacations, I told them about this and they both immediately shouted, "MUIR WOODS!", and then told me all about John Muir and their very interesting trip to Muir Woods! Yay for context! Mental note: show kids the Ken Burns National Parks series.
The hike is pretty steep and also, don't fall off of the boardwalk!
Matt wasn't always so sure about the height, but he was a trooper about it.
The views, of course, were worth it. You can see our cruise ship from here, as well.
Here's more of those trees on elevated roots that I was telling you about in Ketchikan.
And some more!
After we hiked down from Mt. Dewey, we hiked to Petroglyph Beach
The petroglyphs here aren't nearly as well-maintained as they were in Hawaii, but that made hunting for them more of an adventure.
Even though we did sometimes find them cracked.
Or buried in sand!
This is almost my favorite photo from the entire trip. It also seems to be kind of a thing in Alaska to leave your boat to rot wherever you're done with it.
This one is so much more elaborate than the others that I'm not sure that it's from the same time period.
Many petroglyph designs are unique to this area.
But many, bafflingly, are not. Do you recognize these circles?!? In Hawaii, the prevailing theory that we were told is that they marked births, with the indentation in the middle meant to hold a segment of umbilical cord, and the additional rings meant to represent additional births. In Alaska, however, we were told that historians don't know what these represent. Weird, right?
 After we'd hiked what seemed like all damn day, we got back to the ship and it turns out that not only was the day still going strong, after all, but that it was plenty warm enough to hop into our swimsuits and spend the rest of the afternoon at the pool.
And the lounge chairs. And the milkshake bar...
 Not pictured: the kid whom I bought a garnet from and whose friend gave us free lemonade; the shoes that I also bought, after finally admitting that the boots that I've owned for nigh upon a decade have grown maybe half a size too small; the friends that we've made (including one at the top of Mt. Dewey!), because it's easy to make friends on a cruise; or any part of the evening, probably because it began with another reception for our group that included free wine.


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