The Future Holds Promise

Just a quick thank you to those of you who reached out to me after my last blog post. I want to reiterate that while I do have many worries, I am generally positive and happy. Though we never found that ideal “village” to raise our kids in, we have made the best of what we got, and I’m so thankful that my husband and I can work together at home and give the boys our daily attention. Though the past two years have thrown many sad events in my path, I knew I needed to ride the waves instead of fighting them. But I don’t like writing blog posts and giving the impression that everything is perfect because that doesn’t help anyone. I hope I strike the right balance when it comes to that question of “what is too much to share online?”

Having said all that, I am indeed looking forward with much anticipation. I’m pleased with our school year so far. Sometimes I look at the calendar and wonder if we’re getting too behind, but then I wonder if I am pushing forward too hard? If both those things cross my mind at intervals, then we’re probably right on track! But we have never and will never look like a traditional school. We are goal-oriented and not “follow the public school calendar” oriented. My boys thrive with being goal-oriented because they both have goals, so they are motivated to work even if they don’t always love the work.

We recently reached a point where we felt we could take a trip because my youngest son became eligible and was vaccinated with the COVID vaccine. (Can you guess where?) We also took a lot of other precautions so that we could keep ourselves and others safe while we traveled. The main purpose of our trip was so that our eldest son could meet his new piano teacher face-to-face. What a joy that was! Most of his lessons will be done remotely, but we hope to go again sometime. We also decided to extend the trip a few days so we could spend a few days in the mountains and do some hiking. I will share a few photos from that trip in this blog post.

Both boys are taking more online classes this year, and so far I’m pleased with how it’s going, but I’m not sure it’s saving me time. It’s a different kind of busy. But it feels good to be the support person and not the plan-all-the-lessons person. I’m hoping to pull together a blog post about my younger son’s 5th and 6th grade curriculum because I’m way behind in that. Eventually I’ll create another PDF resource about 9th grade, but that won’t come until the year is complete.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

One of many highlights of our recent trip was being able to visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you’ll know I’ve written several times about my younger son’s love of birds. He’s nine-years-old now, and he’s been talking about birds since he was about four. I am pleasantly surprised that his interest has not faded, though he definitely has his own way of navigating this project. We haven’t done a lot  of in depth study about birds. Instead, we’ve drawn them, watched them, identified dozens of them, collected toy birds, made toy birds, and only occasionally read books about them. Though I encourage it and offer whatever I can to foster his love of birds, I haven’t pushed all the ideas I would like to see done. This has been a good decision. It’s truly a child-led project.

We’ve known about the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for awhile now, and I have been wanting to visit it, but I never thought we would be able to see it so soon. Then my eldest son’s interest in music took us to Cleveland, and well, though that’s not extremely close to Ithaca, it was close enough for us. We had to go!

We loved Ithaca, and we loved the Lab. We went twice. On the first visit, we walked the trails in Sapsucker Woods for about an hour, and then we took the behind-the-scenes tour of the lab. The next day, we went back and took a longer walk through the beautiful Sapsucker Woods.

View of the lab from across the pond.

It’s a beautiful building. About 250~300 faculty, students and staff work there. We were told it is mostly member-supported, and Cornell University contributes only a tiny percentage of its budget. It has the beautiful Wall of Birds (click on that link and you won’t be sorry), the Macaulay Library, which you can contribute to, and the Lab also houses Cornell University’s Museum of Vertebrates, so bird specimens aren’t the only resource available to students and researchers.

Here is the Lab’s mission statement:

Our mission is to interpret and conserve the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.

If you are at all interested in birds, then you have probably already been to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website. You have probably used the section All About Birdswhich can help you identify the birds you see outside your window. Or you have contributed your sightings to to eBird or another one of their popular citizen science projects.

Their website has much more on it, and if you are a bird lover or you have a child who is, then there’s a lot of educational materials that you can use. I can’t wait until my son gets a little older. I think he’ll really enjoy the Bird Academy. There are also activities and planned lessons for teachers or homeschooling co-op parents in their K-12 Education section. There’s even more than that, but I’ll stop there and let you explore their website yourself. You can also read about the history of the Lab on Wikipedia.

Sapsucker Woods is a special place, and we knew it before we even stepped on a trail. I’ll show you our walks through my photos.

I know Canada Geese are everywhere up north, but we don’t see them too often in Georgia, so we still enjoy encountering them.

Right at the start of the trail, we saw a pileated woodpecker. We see these occasionally in our yard, but it’s always a big deal when they arrive because they don’t come often. We stood there watching this one for quite awhile.

Mama wood duck and her ducklings.


Fawn. Mama was there too.

Song sparrow

Haven’t identified this fella yet. Anybody know?

Baby raccoon. There were two siblings and a mom in the tree too.

Georgia Blue Jays have never posed for me like this one did. 😉

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Sapsucker Woods is a special place, and I highly recommend that you visit, if you can.

Have you ever been to the Cornell Lab? Please tell me about your visit.

Atlanta Botanical Garden

The strings you see hanging down are roots.

This post concludes my series of day trips that we took this summer, which also concludes our 2017-2018 school year. Day trips are some of our most educational and fun activities we can do as homeschoolers. I will try to write about some of the places we go this year too.

The photo does not do it justice, but I loved this statue of a toddler holding onto some frogs, and he’s extremely proud of his capture.

I had to take this photo of a nepenthes pitcher plant for my son who grows carnivorous plants.

My son picked the Atlanta Botanical Garden as his “birthday day trip.” I won’t lie — I wasn’t disappointed about this at all. I have been wanting to go there for a long time. My twelve-year-old has always been into plants, and lately, there’s been a kind of resurgence in this interest. Since I love plants and gardening too, it’s such a pleasure for me to witness this, and what a surprise that he’d pick the botanical garden on his birthday. I thought he might pick a science museum or aquarium like his brother.

We had never been to the Atlanta Botanical Garden before, and we were not disappointed. It was more beautiful than we were expecting. We have been to our state botanical garden, and we’ve been to the Chicago Botanical Garden, and both those places are lovely. (How can gardens not be?) But the Atlanta Botanical Garden was truly special. The boys loved all the plant sculptures in the garden, which was whimsical and made it fun for kids.

The greenhouses, which you see in the background of his photo, were fabulous.

A bloom among the plants of the desert.

It was so big, we didn’t even get to see it all, so we’re planning to go back. I will highlight our favorite spots in the photos. I hope you enjoy them. (And by the way, I was dismayed that I forgot to bring my Nikon with me. If there’s anything I love to photograph, it’s flowers. So there’s another reason to go back. These photos were taken on my phone camera.)

The orchid house was perhaps our favorite place.

Something I’ve never seen before — flowers growing on the bottom of the roots!


Georgia Aquarium

On our recent visit I did not take many photographs except for these awesome puffins, which is a new exhibit. So the other photographs in this post were taken on previous visits to the aquarium.

We have been to the Georgia Aquarium several times (mostly when the boys were smaller), but I realize I have never written a newspaper column or blog post about this amazing aquarium. It used to be the largest aquarium in the world until it was surpassed by an aquarium built in Singapore in 2012. Go there and you can gaze at beluga whales, whale sharks, manta rays, and literally hundreds of amazing smaller species too. We were quite thrilled to get to see their newest exhibit of marine birds, including puffins, on our recent visit, which was on my 9-year-old’s birthday.

I’m not going into detail about what the aquarium has for you to see and do because you can find out about that on their website. Instead, I’m going to babble on about the cost because, geez, this is a very expensive place to visit. ($36 general admission for adults. $30 for kids. And don’t forget parking and food.) That’s why we rarely go. When the boys were small and my eldest son was obsessed with ocean animals, we went a few times. But it was cheaper back then, and I remember finding coupons that allowed us to get in for $15 per adult — they don’t offer those anymore.  (Though they do offer various discounts on their website.)

I have mixed feelings about the expense. I mean, on one hand, it’s too expensive for many families who can’t pay that much to get two adults and their kids into the aquarium. On the other hand, the cost to run that place must be enormous, and I know they are doing all kinds of good research and conservation efforts. So once in a while, we splurge on it.

At least the general admission includes the dolphin show now. It used to not. And the dolphin show is much, much better than it used to be. It’s not cheesy, and it’s more educational. Instead of actors and singers, the real dolphin trainers run the show.

My youngest son just turned nine, and it was his request to visit an aquarium on his birthday. (And you can get in free on your birthday, so there’s that.) We were going to take him to the Tennessee Aquarium because, to be honest, we like it even more than the Georgia Aquarium, and we have only been there once (on my eldest son’s ninth birthday). However, there were severe thunderstorms predicted on his birthday, so we didn’t think it would be wise to drive so far. To make up for that, we purchased two tickets to a dolphin encounter at the Georgia Aquarium. It ended up being a good decision, and I’m the lucky one who got to meet the dolphin with him. (I fulfilled a childhood dream!) It was amazing, and I’m so glad we did it.

If you go, I hope you can go during the week. Saturdays are chaos. I am not joking when I say it’s shoulder to shoulder people, and it’s hard to see any of the exhibits at that point. Also be sure to purchase tickets in advance online, or you’ll be standing in an extremely long line. My son’s birthday happened to be on a Saturday this year, but we got there right when it opened. For an hour or so, it wasn’t too bad. But man, the people came quick. Please go during the week, especially if you’re an introvert. 😉

North Georgia Zoo & Petting Farm

One of the day trips we made this summer was to the North Georgia Zoo & Petting Farm. We had been aware of this zoo for a long time, and we’d always wanted to check it out. My boys had a great time at this zoo.

This is a small and rustic zoo. Don’t expect paved walkways or cool buildings to walk into occasionally. The petting farm (and you can pay just to walk through the petting farm only) is fun. There were sheep, goats, alpacas and a cow to pet. Exotic chickens roamed the area too.

To see the exotic animals, you have to go on a tour, which is included in your admission price. Someone will walk you through this area, and there you’ll find all kinds of interesting animals from different parts of the world. We had a very friendly and knowledgeable guide. I do not remember seeing every animal on their full animal list, but there were plenty of animals to see. I know they have areas of the zoo that we were not permitted to go to because some animals were under special care. You can also purchase tickets for “animal encounters,” which we didn’t do.

At the end of the tour, our guide let us meet three small animals and get a chance to pet them: a small python, armadillo and chinchilla. That was pretty cool.

My husband and I were disappointed to see that some of the animals were in cages that seemed too small, such as the cougar and the New Guinea singing dogs. I realize this is an issue with many zoos, and I also know it takes a tremendous amount of money to care for these animals, which is why we didn’t mind paying the admission fee. However, the admission price is similar to the admission for Zoo Atlanta, which surprised us, considering how much smaller this one was. Perhaps Zoo Atlanta gets more donations, which allows them to keep their prices down?

If you are in the North Georgia mountains and you have children, I would say go visit this zoo. However, I wouldn’t make a special trip again just to see this zoo. The area around the zoo, however, was gorgeous. There are a lot of vineyards in the area. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to combine a trip to the zoo with a visit to a vineyard. 😉

P.S. Sorry there are no photos here of the petting farm. I was too busy petting the animals!

Tellus Science Museum

Several years ago I wrote an informative newspaper column about the Tellus Museum that you can still read, but it’s worth writing about briefly again. Since that first visit, we have been to the Tellus many times, and one year, we had a family membership. But we hadn’t been there in a very long time when we went this summer. That’s the day we also went to the Booth Western Art Museum.

It’s great going back to museums as our kids get older.  Not only do we get to see new additions to the museum, it’s fun to see what our kids are attracted to at different ages. When they were younger, we spent more time in the dinosaur exhibit and with the hands-on kids stuff, especially digging for fossils and panning for gems. We looked through the whole museum back then too, but we couldn’t linger as long in my favorite area, which is the Weinman Mineral Gallery.

But this time we did. In fact, we spent the most time there, and it was great. The boys were much more interested in scrutinizing the beautiful rocks and minerals, and I even read a few of the signs to them. This is why most of my photos are of rocks and minerals this time. I hope you enjoy them, and if you get the chance, I highly recommend that you visit this museum to see them for yourself.

Booth Western Art Museum

The Booth Western Art Museum is located in Cartersville, Georgia. We have been to Cartersville many times to visit the Tellus Science Museum, but we didn’t visit the Booth Museum until this summer because we thought the boys might be too young to appreciate the art. Now that they are a little older, they appreciate art more, and my eldest especially enjoys the museums. My youngest tolerates them well. 😉

We were expecting a much smaller “hole-in-the-wall” museum, but the Booth Museum is in a beautiful, modern building, and it was too big for us to see it all in one visit. Well, at least on the same day we promised the boys we’d go to the Tellus Museum too. In addition, we ate lunch and found a great ice cream place in the quaint downtown area of Cartersville. It made a fun day trip, and we are planning to go again sometime. I think the Booth Museum is going to become one of my favorite art museums, and it’s not just because I lived in the West for twelve years. There were beautiful works of art in this museum that I wanted to gaze at and savor longer than my young boys would let me.

If you go, I recommend watching the 15 minute introductory film and then make your way to the sculpture area. The sculptures (both indoor and outdoor) were breathtaking. There is also a Civil War room where you can follow the story of the Civil War through paintings in chronological order. Looking at their website, I see we missed the Sagebrush Ranch, an interactive gallery for kids too. (A good excuse to go back!)

If you live in Georgia, are interested in the West, or you are homeschooling and studying the American expansion, I highly recommend a visit to this museum. You won’t be disappointed. There is also a fun gift shop with many books and educational toys for kids regarding the West.

Michael C. Carlos Museum

We love to take the boys on day trips to interesting places around this region, and this summer, we’ve been on several. I’m going to try to write about all the places we’ve been, and I’m starting with the Michael C. Carlos Museum, which is located on the campus of Emory University.

The Carlos Museum is an art museum that collects and preserves art and artifacts. At the top of this post you can see one of their Egyptian mummies. According to their website, they have about 17,000 ancient artifacts from Egypt, the Near East, Greece, Rome, the Americas, Asia and Africa. They also have works on paper from the Renaissance to the present day. (Not everything is on display.)

We will have to return to this museum again and again as we continue with our history lessons. The museum is not huge, but it was bigger than we thought it would be. This past year and a half, we have studied Ancient India, China, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece, so it complemented our studies perfectly.

If you live in the area, I highly recommend that you check out this museum, and even if you don’t, be sure to look at their website. They have some interactive sites for kids as well as a podcast.

Have you been to this museum? Please tell me about your experience.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

The last place I want to share with you from our trip to Biloxi is the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park located in Mobile, AL. My boys have enjoyed learning about military vehicles and the history that goes with them ever since they started playing digital games. Of course, my husband, who is a history professor, has been interested in this stuff since he was a young boy too, and the park definitely brought out the kid in him.

Learn about the impressive history of the USS Alabama here.

This is the third military museum we’ve visited (not counting plenty of military exhibits we’ve stopped to see at other places), but it’s the first warship they have been able to tour. It was quite impressive with many exhibits, short films, and of course, just seeing the inside.

Took one look at that and thought, I’m glad I wasn’t the one doing those dishes.

The park also has many aircraft both inside and outside the buildings, and the other big highlight was touring a submarine.

Here is the USS Drum.

If you’re interested in military history and are near Mobile, Alabama, this place is a must see.

Mobile Museum of Art

When we spent a week in Biloxi, Mississippi, we drove one day to Mobile, Alabama, which was only an hour’s drive away. We had two places we wanted to visit in Mobile, and one of them was the Mobile Museum of Art (MMofA). If you’re in the area and you enjoy art, I recommend that you visit this museum.

MMofA has a collection of 10,000 pieces of art, but they are not all on display at the same time. You can see on their website what they are showcasing at any given time. We were lucky to view some of their Native American art (always a favorite with me), and Asian art, which was a treat since the boys and I studied Ancient China this year. We also loved their large collection of Alabama artists, and they had several temporary exhibits that we enjoyed too.

My favorite exhibit was The Mobile Delta: Glass & Light by Rene Culler who is an Assistant Professor and the Glass Program Coordinator at the University of South Alabama.

I have fallen in love with the marsh areas along the southern coasts. I love the colors, plants, light, birds, frogs, aquatic animals and everything about this habitat. It’s enchanting. So when I stepped into the area where Culler’s glass representation of the Mobile Delta is installed next to some windows with the natural light, I was blown away (pardon the pun). I’ve always been fascinated with glass artists (second only to pottery), so I felt this was the perfect medium to capture the beauty and constant changes of the delta.

I didn’t take any photographs inside the museum, but MMofA did a short WebTALK with Rene Culler, which you can view on their website, but I will also embed that here. You can see some of this beautiful exhibit in the video.