Friday, May 31, 2013

Zeke (the Destroyer) Update

Remember Zeke--the dog I found running down a busy road several months ago?  

Well, it turns out Zeke definitely has a few "issues."  For starters, he's a jumper...and a chewer...and a crotch sniffer...and a shedder...and a....well you get the picture. 

Zeke, our "free" dog has wound up costing us quite a bit. Here is a quick list off the top of my head of some of the things he's destroyed:  2 books, 2 bicycle helmets (he has a "thing" for straps), 2 stuffed animals, 1 dog bed, 6 kilim pillows (he also has a thing for "stuffing"), 1 electric razor, 1 computer power strip, 1 pair of earbuds (yes, he also has a "thing" for electronics) and 1 window screen, .  Needless to say, there's probably a reason his former owners weren't out looking for him.

Unfortunately, Zeke also gets horribly carsick.  This past weekend when we went to WV, we had to board him at a local kennel.  (We can't leave him home with a petsitter, because we wouldn't have a house left by the time we returned and we can't bring him in the car for 8 hours either).  The kennel is about a 10 minute drive from our house and poor ol' Zekie managed to drool profusely over the entire van before he vomited 4 times all over the floor and seat.  (Lesson learned--do NOT feed Zeke dinner before dropping him off at the kennel :-))

But all those little foibles aside, Zeke (who Bob calls "Bad Dog") is definitely growing on me.  He has a joyful enthusiasm for life that I find endearing.  He's definitely bonded to me and consequently, he follows me all over the place.  He loves to run and if he can ever get over the carsickness, I think he's going to be a good camping/hiking dog.  We recently had him neutered and the vet thought he was only about a year he's young...and there's hope that better days are ahead!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Our History Capstone Fieldtrip to Washington D.C.

Last week, our homeschool co-op took a three day History Capstone trip to Washington D.C..  For the past 2 years, I have been teaching a U.S. History class to fourteen 6th - 9th grade students.  Last year we covered U.S. History from pre-Columbian times up through the Civil War and at the end of the year, we took a Capstone trip to Gettysburg, Antietam and Harper's Ferry (eventually I'll write more on that trip).  It was an amazing trip--biking through Gettysburg, kayaking through Antietam and hiking through Harper's Ferry--and I knew it would be tough to top, especially since we decided to go to D.C..  The challenge was that all of us live just a few hours from D.C. and so most of the kids had already visited there a number of times.  I needed to come up with a way to keep it fresh and interesting.

The first challenge was to find reasonably priced lodging that could accommodate 22 people.  After a bunch of research, I found the Washington Seminar Center (WSC), which is located in the basement of the Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church.

The WSC turned out to be a tremendous find.  The Church started the center as part of it's social justice mission.  They offer reasonably priced accommodations to groups coming to D.C..  The WSC is located just 3 blocks behind the U.S. Capitol Building.  There are three separate bunk rooms that sleep up to 40 people.  It worked out nicely for us--one for the boys, one for the girls and one for the Moms.  The facility also has a large, well stocked commercial kitchen, a rec room, a sitting area, a dining area and a courtyard garden.  Needless to say, it was absolutely perfect for our homeschool group, especially since we could walk everywhere. 

I've got to say that these women just rock my world!  They have all become great friends over the course of the past few years and have helped make our homeschooling experience a joy.  I literally can't say enough good things about them--they're smart, funny, talented and uber supportive!

The second challenge was to find activities to do to that would be fresh and exciting for the kids.  I think I succeeded.  We arrived at the WSC around noon on Tuesday and proceeded to walk to the Newseum.  I hadn't been in the Newseum in well over a decade and I have to say, it is FANTASTIC (in fact, I'd love to go back sans kids).  When we arrived at the Newseum, we began with a one hour class on the ethics involved in reporting the events which occurred on 9/11.  It was a thought-provoking, interactive class.  We then spent the next 2 1/2 hours exploring the museum.  There was such much to see and take in, but I particularly liked the exhibits on the Pulitzer Prize winning photos as well as 9/11.  

After the Newseum, we returned to the WSC and cooked a communal dinner.  We then waited until dark and I led the group on a night tour of the monuments.  All I can say is if you've never done a night walking tour of the D.C. monuments, it's an absolute must!  The monuments are gorgeous at night.  The Korean War Memorial is 10x more poignant and beautiful at night, especially since the granite etchings literally "glow in the dark."  All told, we walked almost six miles and by the time we returned, the kids were pretty tuckered out.

The next morning, the group split up.  A small contingent headed off to the Smithsonian American History Museum while I led the other contingent to the Smithsonian Castle, the Dinosaur exhibit at the Natural History Museum, the Edvard Munch (The Scream) exhibit at the National Gallery, the Carousel on the Mall as well as a visit to the U.S. Botanical Gardens.  Here are a few of pics:


We met back at the WSC and then the kids (& Moms) who were up for an adventure hike set off for the Billy Goat Trail.  For those of you not familiar with the Billy Goat trail, it's one of my absolute favorite places in the D.C. area.  It's a pretty strenuous hike/rock scramble through Mather Gorge by Great Falls National Park.  I used to do a lot of training on the trail back in my adventure racing days.  I still find it mind boggling that something so wild and gorgeous is located just a few miles from the heart of D.C..

The kids did great and really enjoyed the challenge!

We finally emerged on the C&O towpath shortly before Great Falls and made our way to the Falls.

We opted to hike back to our cars via the canal towpath, which was a great opportunity for the kids to learn about its history as well as see several of the locks.

Fortunately, when we eventually arrived back at the WSC at 8:00 pm, the moms who opted not to hike, had fresh, hot pizza awaiting us.  It was absolutely delish--thanks guys!

On our last day, we got up relatively early and went and toured the Supreme Court.  Unfortunately, the Court wasn't in session, so we didn't get to see any of the Justices.

However, we did get to see their chambers.


After our visit to the Supreme Court, we walked next door to the Library of Congress.    Here is the torch of knowledge on top of the building's dome.

In my opinion, the Library of Congress is the most beautiful building in D.C..  The amount of information they have is absolutely mind boggling.  For example, they have two copies of every single book that has a copyright, hundreds of thousands of movies, the world's largest comic book collection and a compilation of millions of tweets.  I left there determined that we would return to spend a day or two homeschooling in the one of the reading rooms.  Here is a pic I took of the largest reading room.  It was gorgeous!

 One of my friends checked to see if the Library had a copy of the book I co-wrote and sure enough it did!

After the Library tour, it was time to hightail it out of the city before we spent hours stuck in D.C. rush hour traffic--and despite our relatively early departure, we still managed to get stuck.

Our Capstone trip was a total success.  The kids had so much fun--not only exploring the city and seeing the sights, but also hanging out together playing games, playing their instruments and playing pranks on each other.  We've been part of this Co-op from the very start and I can't say enough good things about the remarkable families who comprise it.   Our Capstone trips are just icing on the cake.

Monday, May 27, 2013

West Virginia Weekend at Watoga State Park

Time sure flies when you're having fun, and we sure have!  In fact, it's hard to believe that I haven't posted in several months.  Needless to say, I have lots to catch up on...but for now, I'll do a quick post about a short, fun-filled, family vacation we took over Memorial Day weekend.  

Last summer, my sister Karin, my friend Caroline and I biked the Greenbrier bike path in West Virginia.  We rode 160 miles round trip and wound up camping at Watoga State Park in Seebert, WV along the way.  We absolutely loved the park--it was gorgeous--and I vowed that I'd come back the following year with Bob and the kids.  That's exactly what we did, except we "splurged" a bit and rented a cute 2 bedroom cabin across from a babbling brook.  We used this as our base of operations as we hiked and biked all over the place. 

Watoga State Park is WV's largest state park with over 10,000 acres.  It has a small lake, 30+ miles of hiking trails (as well as access to the 330 mile Allegheny Trail) and the Greenbrier River along with the adjacent 80 mile Greenbrier River Trail runs through it.  Needless to say, it's an outdoorsman's paradise.

The first morning, we opted to go on a 6-7 mile hike in the mountains.  Along the way, we spotted a young bear which was very cool.  It was the kids first experience seeing a bear in the wild.

Connor served as our navigator,

 while Mikaela served as the photographer for part of the hike.

After a quick lunch, we were off on a family bike ride.

We hit the Greenbrier River Trail and rode for a little over 12 miles.

The Greenbrier River Trail is gorgeous.  It's verdant green with lush foliage and there are mountains every which way you look.  Of course the Greenbrier River runs next to the trail and it's extremely picturesque.  


The following morning Bob and I awoke early and went for different 6+ mile hike in the mountains while the kids slept in--after all, they're at the age where they no longer enjoy getting up at 7:00 a.m. if they can help it.  We brought Shasta with us (while Zeke was back home in a kennel--more on Zeke later :-)).

When we got back to the cabin, the kids were dressed and ready to go on our 22 mile bike ride to Marlinton, WV.  We were going there to eat lunch at the Dirtbean Cafe--a cute cafe & bikeshop combo with terrific, healthy food.

The weather was absolutely perfect and the miles passed quickly.  We stopped along the way to wade in the river, have stone skipping contests and of course, to enjoy the scenery.

After the bike ride, we went back to the cabin.  The kids read while Bob and I went for a shorter (3-4 mile) hike in the woods.  We came back, cooked dinner, made a roaring fire in the fireplace, ate s'mores, played cards and read before turning in for the night.

This morning, we managed to squeeze in one more quick hike before we had to check out. All in all, it was a fantastic family, get-away weekend.  There is no cell reception, wi-fi or any other distraction at Watoga--just plenty of time to be outdoors and to talk, laugh, relax and play games together.  Needless to say, I can hardly wait to visit again!

I sure do love adventuring with my family!