Trip West

In May, we took a trip out west. We weren’t expecting to undertake such a big trip this year, but we often mused about taking the boys out west. Then, my sister asked us when we were coming for a visit…she and her family live near Denver, Colorado. That was the push we needed to get us on the road.

It was the longest road trip we’ve ever taken, so we weren’t sure how anyone would behave (most of all, the adults!). But we made it almost-painlessly on the two day drive to New Mexico, which was our first destination.

New Mexico

I used to live out west, but seeing it with my children was like seeing it for the first time again. The boys were thrilled to see the desert landscape, pronghorn antelope, a horny toad, and my 10-year-old was even lucky enough to get a glimpse of elk while we were driving! They were familiar with these animals from all the documentaries we watch, and especially Wild Kratts, so seeing them in person was very exciting! We (especially me!) were also thrilled to identify some birds that don’t live in Georgia — grackles, ravens, magpies, etc. It was so much fun!

Santa Fe, New Mexico

We spent a couple of days in Santa Fe, which I’d always wanted to spend more time in, and so did my husband. It’s a beautiful, artsy, touristy town with a lot of history. We spent an afternoon looking through the art galleries, and I thought the boys might get bored there, but they enjoyed that! My seven-year-old said he had fun because he “saw many things I liked!” The only place they did get a little bored in was the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, but I enjoyed that.

Oldest church ever built in the U.S.A. It was built by the Tlaxcalan Indians under the direction of Franciscan Padres, circa 1610.

The second day in Santa Fe, we headed a short distance out of town to see Bandelier National Monument, and this was perhaps our favorite site to see. We took what was at least a 2-mile hike through a beautiful landscape that was quite different from home.  This hike ended at some incredible Pueblo ruins. I had never even seen anything like that before. (We bought some books about the Pueblo Indians at the visitor center, which I’m reading to my boys now!)

“Tyuonyi (pronounced Qu-weh-nee) is a free standing pueblo from the 14th century built in an unusual circular shape in Frijoles Canyon midway between Frijoles Creek and the north canyon face. Two and perhaps three stories high in some places this village housed about 100 people in 400 rooms and was constructed of carefully shaped tuff blocks cut from the canyon walls. There was a single ground-level entrance and a plaza area that had three small kivas which served as the center for social village ceremonial life.”
My boys viewing the Pueblo ruins at Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico.
a kiva

After Santa Fe, we drove up to Denver and spent four days at my sister’s house. My grown-up niece and nephews stopped by to see us too, so my boys got to meet their cousins, which was great. There was a big snowstorm in the area when we arrived, which kept us from going farther north. But since we were tired from traveling, it was nice to stay around my sister’s area, enjoy the mountain view from a local park, and go to the pool at her gym.

Approaching the snowstorm.
View from Bluffs Regional Park. Overlooking Denver and suburbs.

After our time in Denver, we headed south again, but this time we went to Albuquerque. We were there for just one day, but we packed a lot in. We went to the Indian Cultural Arts Center, Petroglyph National Monument, and Old Town Albuquerque for dinner and a bit of shopping.

Indian Cultural Arts Center

This was an incredibly educational trip. The Indian Cultural Arts Center was a fascinating place, and I read most of the exhibits to my boys, which were full of stories and inspiring messages from various Pueblo cultures. The museum is owned and operated by the 19 Pueblo tribes that are located in New Mexico.

I had seen petroglyphs before, but I had never seen as many as I saw at Petroglyph National Monument. The petroglyphs are carved into large basalt boulders, ancient volcanic rock that had once flowed around a hill, but now the hill has eroded away. This is called reverse or inverted topography, and the canyon that is left behind is called Boca Negra Canyon.

This trip created memories that will last a lifetime, and we’re so glad we took the plunge and went.

Do you have any special trip plans for this summer? I would love to hear about them.

A Visit to Chicago

taken from a window in the Field Museum
taken from a window in the Field Museum

I’m learning that, no matter how much you love home, you need to get away sometimes too. We spent the first two weeks of September in Chicago visiting relatives. Despite being sick for half the trip, and my poor husband was sick pretty much the whole time (and working too!), it was still nice to get away. We didn’t do everything we set out to do, but we still did a lot thanks to some reciprocal membership programs that we’re part of.

The Field Museum. “Sue” is the largest and best preserved T-Rex specimen ever found. This time we visited her with the knowledge of how she was found and the controversy surrounding her after watching the documentary Dinosaur 13. Fascinating stuff.

We went to the Field Museum, which we’ve been to several times now. It’s my favorite place in Chicago, I think, and I never get tired of it.

Museum of Science and Industry. This museum is also home to the U-505 Submarine, a German sub that was captured on June 4, 1944. It also has a great exhibit on the weather with a large, simulated tornado, and my personal fav exhibit is on the human body.

We also went to the Museum of Science and Industry. That was our second time there. It’s a great museum, if you haven’t seen it, and especially if you like airplanes.

Chicago Botanic Garden
Chicago Botanic Garden. Ahhhhh….

My other favorite place is the Chicago Botanic Garden. I wish I could spend a whole day there by myself, but I love going with my family too.

My boys spent some time with their Polish relatives, which is an education in itself! I sometimes feel like I’m going to a foreign country when we visit family in Chicago. I love the flowers in my in-laws yard and all the home-cooked Polish food.

It was an odd time of year for us to go away, but that’s the nice thing about homeschooling. You can be flexible and go when you want to go.

Since we went away, I had to put off our homeschooling plans for a while longer, and now that we’re back, the boys caught yet another illness (when will it end?!), but I’m slowly inching myself toward normality again. Very soon I will write about my plans for this year.

I have also written more extensively about the places we’ve visited before in Chicago in past blog posts. You can access those by clicking on the Chicago tag.

I hope you are doing well. Have you started a new homeschooling year, or are you continuing forward with your everyday life?

Dauset Trails Nature Center

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on January 20, 2016.

If you feel like an adventure, consider a drive down to Jackson, Georgia to explore Dauset Trails Nature Center, a private, non-profit center whose mission is to provide environmental education, outdoor recreation and an understanding of early farm life. It has 1400 acres of woods, fields, creeks and lakes, and it includes live animal exihibits, gardens, hiking, biking and horseback trails. Admission is free.

We took a day over the holidays to go down and see this place that we had heard about at a local nature center event. It was well worth the effort because Dauset Trails is beautiful and peaceful, and it offers so much to see.

The animal trail reminded me a little of Bear Hollow Zoo in Athens, and my boys loved viewing the wild animals such as the bald eagle who cried out to us, owls, hawks, otters, a cougar, bear, coyotes, a bison and more. All of these animals are non-releasable, and they have been either injured or orphaned.

Dauset also has a barnyard exhibit with chickens, pigs, cows, goats, a mule and a donkey. We walked through a barn and could see the smoke house, country store, blacksmith shop and other buildings, which I believe are used for events. On the day we were there, we had the place almost to ourselves.

Below the visitor’s center is a kind of classroom/reptile house where we found live turtles, alligators and snakes. Right outside the nature center, you can sit on the porch and watch the songbirds coming and going from the feeders – we had never seen so many different birds all at once. We spied chickadees, titmice, cardinals, bluebirds and two or three woodpeckers!

Behind the visitor’s center is a small lake, and you can walk over the bridge and purchase a handful of food (bring some quarters) to feed the fish and ducks, though there were no ducks the day we were there.

After walking the animal trail, seeing the barnyard animals, and walking through some of the gardens, we were too tired to hit a hiking trail, so we hope to go back someday.

I was impressed to learn that Dauset Trails was the dream of Hampton Daughtry, a man who had played as a boy in the woods where we walked. When he grew up, he made his fortune in the textile industry, and when he returned to his home, he put much of his money into the community. He was a big supporter of the Boy Scouts and youth recreational programs.

He and his friend, David Settle, dreamed of providing a place where people could learn about and enjoy nature without disturbance. Much of the land in Dauset Trails belonged to them, and the name “Dauset” was created by combining parts of their names. Mr. Daughtry is buried on the property in the Memorial Garden.

There is no food available at the center, but there is a drink machine and picnic tables. Camping areas are available for organized groups only and require a reservation. Facility rentals are available for special events. It is open Monday-Saturday 9-5 and Sunday 12-5. (No admittance one hour before closing.) See dausettrails.com for more information.

 

Natural History Museum at Georgia College

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal in October 2015.

If you have young children, they may not be old enough to appreciate Georgia’s history or the beautiful homes you can tour along the Antebellum Trail, but you may be able to sneak some of that in on a day trip to the Natural History Museum at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville. Our boys love fossils, so we spent a long time in this small museum, and then we enjoyed exploring the beautiful campus and viewed some of the historical buildings too.

The Natural History Museum is only a 2,500-square-foot room in Herty Hall, but it is jam-packed with fossils and exhibits that will teach you about ancient life forms. Georgia College holds one of the largest repositories of fossils in the southeast, covering the last 500 million years, and it’s the official repository for National Park Service specimens too. Though small, there’s still enough to keep you busy for well over an hour as you slowly make your way around the room.

My boys are excited about seeing any kind of fossil or bones, but some of the highlights were the large cephalopods, a crinoid and trilobites. There was a fossil of a large amphibian from the late Triassic found in Poland that looked similar to an alligator’s head. The fossil of a dinosaur egg was pretty cool, and a skeleton of a Smilodon, or saber-toothed cat, was a favorite.

After the museum, we walked to the Ennis Hall, the Department of Art, hoping to check out an art exhibit, but at that time, they were between art shows. We still had fun checking out the beautiful, old antebellum buildings that have been turned into office buildings and classroom space. The main part of campus has a large green area with beautiful trees to walk under.

We stopped by the Old Governor’s Mansion, which was the home of eight governors, their families, slaves and free servants from 1839-1868 when Milledgeville was the state capital of Georgia. (The capital moved to Atlanta in 1868 due to Atlanta’s superior rail service.) During the Civil War, General William T. Sherman’s army captured the mansion, and it served as his headquarters. Now it’s a museum, and you can take tours there too, but we didn’t think our young boys would be patient enough for that, so we just enjoyed walking around the block and checking out the gardens.

Downtown Milledgeville is also within walking distance. It’s quaint, and it has plenty of shops to peruse. We found some old comic books in an antique store that has kick started my nine-year-old’s enjoyment of reading silently to himself. (Score!) We even found a restaurant that served food my picky eaters would eat too.

Since it’s only two hours away, Milledgeville makes a lovely day trip. You can go for the fossils, or the history, or just a lovely stroll down some beautiful streets.

Find out more about the natural history museum at this website: http://www.gcsu.edu/nhm. It’s free and open to the public from 8a.m. to 4p.m. Monday through Friday. There is free 2-hour parking outside the building, which will give you plenty of time to see the exhibits. Large groups can make reservations for a tour.

Tennessee Aquarium

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal in September 2015.

My eldest son turned nine-years-old in August, and for his birthday, we let him pick a place he’d like to go. He told us he wanted to go to the aquarium again. We went to the Georgia Aquarium last year for his birthday, and when he was five, we had a membership there, so this time, we thought we should try a new aquarium.

It’s a three-hour drive to the Tennessee Aquarium in beautiful downtown Chattanooga, TN. We had heard good things about that aquarium, and I can tell you, it did not disappoint. It may be a little smaller than the Georgia Aquarium, but the exhibits are beautiful, and I liked viewing birds, butterflies, amphibians and exotic plants alongside the animals that live exclusively in the water.

There are two buildings to tour at the Tennessee Aquarium. One is called the River Journey building, and you begin at the top of the building in the “Appalachian Cove Forest,” and you make your way down from this mountaintop stream and end at the ocean, viewing the wildlife you would see on a journey such as this. It was great fun to view the birds and waterfalls, watch the otters play, and see some incredible amphibians, including a hellbender salamander, the biggest salamander that lives in the U.S.

My favorite exhibit in this building was of Alligator Bayou, and though the alligators were fun to look at, I was more fascinated with getting up close to a snowy white egret and two little ducks who were extremely entertaining to watch. I also love turtles, and while I’ve seen plenty at nearby parks, they usually disappear in the water before I can get close enough to photograph them. At the aquarium, I could have reached out and touched them, if it weren’t for that big pane of glass. My six-year-old told me he loved the ducks and alligator snapping turtle.

My nine-year-old’s favorite part of this building was the River Giants. Some of these fish are as big as small cars, and though they weren’t pretty, they were fascinating. According to the aquarium’s website, this exhibit showcases fish from major rivers throughout the world, but unfortunately, many are endangered. The Giant Pangassius Catfish of Indochina is one such fish. Its population is in the decline because of overfishing. The Lake Sturgeon, which resides in the Mississippi River, is recovering in numbers due to fishing regulations.

The second building is called Ocean Journey, and we lingered at the top of this building for a long time. The roof was made of glass, so the sunlight was bright and welcoming on this replica of a Tropical Cove. Here there were two hyacinth macaws showing off the most brilliant blue feathers I’ve ever seen. The boys loved Stingray Bay, which is the aquarium’s largest touch station. They were able to reach in and touch small sharks and stingrays.

We were all surprised to discover that this aquarium has a butterfly habitat with butterfly species from Asia, Africa and South and Central America. If you need to de-stress, a butterfly garden is a good place to do it!

I am giving you only the tip of the iceberg about this aquarium. There was so much more there that I don’t have space to write about, so you need to go check it out for yourself. We made it back in one day, and though it was a long day, it was all worth it.

The best part is that ticket prices are much more affordable than the Georgia Aquarium, and since it was his birthday, my son got in free (which you can also do at the Georgia Aquarium), but the Tennessee Aquarium also extended some birthday discounts to everyone else in the party. We found $5 parking a short distance west of the aquarium and in front of the Tennessee River, which, by the way, was another sight to see. View the aquarium’s website at http://www.tnaqua.org.

Greenville County Museum of Art

On one spontaneous morning, we decided to drive to Greenville, South Carolina and visit their Children’s Museum. We didn’t know much about Greenville at the time or how much we’d love it. (We’re definitely going back!) Right next to the Children’s Museum was the county’s art museum, and it was open one hour later than the children’s museum. It was also free admission. How could we not go in?!

We all enjoyed the Children’s Museum, but the Greenville Country Museum of Art was the most memorable part of the trip for my husband and me. It was a beautiful, small museum, and it happened to have the biggest collection of artwork by Andrew Wyeth in the country. I fell in love with his work, and I’m planning to read some books about him. (He was homeschooled!) He is one of the most well-known artists of our time, so you have probably seen some of his work even if you are not familiar with his name.

This museum also let me take photographs of their permanent collection, but I’m not going to post many because I’m not sure they’d like that. My boys really enjoyed this sculpture of the hawks killing a snake, though. Most of the other artwork was paintings on the wall. I will share these little quotes they posted on the wall next to some work by Jasper Johns because I had to agree with him.

This happens to me all the time!

 

Art field trip to GMOA again

Before looking at the artwork inside, my boys burned off some energy in the art museum’s courtyard. (We would never allow them to run inside!)

Early in the summer, I surprised the boys one Friday morning by saying that for Art Friday, we were going to our local art museum, the Georgia Museum of Art, which is located on the University of Georgia’s campus. I already wrote a detailed column about this museum, so check that, if you want to know more about it.

What I love about this museum is that it’s free admission (although you have to pay a little for parking), and they let you take photographs of their permanent collection. (Be sure to check rules about photography in any museum you visit.)

My husband I really loved Jay Robinson’s work here.

Except for this one photo, I’m not going to post any of the other photos because I’m not sure they’d want me to post them on Internet. What I do when we’re at a museum is tell my boys that I’ll take a photograph of their favorite pieces. And my plan is to look at them again when we’re at home and learn more about that artist, but we haven’t done that yet (ahem!).

I did take a photo of a piece of artwork by Georgia O’Keefe at this museum, however, and one day at home we read a book I have about her, and we looked at more of her artwork online. But that was my choice.

Both my boys can get tired in an art museum much faster than my husband and me. But I consider it lucky that they remain interested for any amount of time, and I know that by starting young, they will learn how to behave and will learn more about art too. My eight-year-old remains interested much longer than his younger brother. In fact, I think he likes looking at everything. He just wants to go at a faster pace and than my husband and me. He’s good about being patient, though.

As for my five-year-old, he might say he doesn’t like the art, but he’ll pick a dozen paintings that he does like and ask me to take pictures of them. He also loves the benches.