Saturday, December 29, 2007

Vehicle Theme: Bungee Cords to Keep Orifices Closed

Well Happy New Year.

This year has been an interesting one for The Kid & I. Huge events in our travels, though most of the huge events occurred at home. Yes our travelin' feet got to hit the trail a couple of times in 2007, but it was the things at home that really shaped our year.

In June my brothers house burned to the ground, a frightening thing, to have everything in the your world consumed totally by fire. It makes you wonder what really matters. Wedding, pictures, baby pictures, that knick-knack from Aunt Flossie. My brother being the incredibly brave individual he is and no stranger to tragic events in his life has shown me incredible character and an important lesson, you don't need all the crap you think you do to live a happy life. He has lived the last 6 months in a rental while they rebuild his home with mainly the "stuff" they had the night of the fire and few things friends and family have loaned to them. His shopping list for the new house was rather Spartan and I am in awe at how this has changed how he and his family live.

In August, just before our school year began our beloved guinea pig Daphne went to the great grape bowl in the sky. She was known to many on the web as Daphne the Science Guinea Pig. Daphne answered Math and Science questions from other other homeschoolers and even had her own FAQ page. But to us she was our special pet. In August we learned a lot about Guinea pig physiology. Daphne passed on from heart failure and we learned that guinea pig heart patients get put on the same medicines that human heart patients are on. We learned that they do have intensive care for heart patients that small and how wonderful those veterinarians are and how much they know about these very small patients.

In September, feeling the need to have yet another little furry critter around we got another guinea pig. Named that one Elvis as it was the only name we thought fit. Elvis was a wild-man. He loved being held and was crazy for just about any fresh leafy green you could give him. He could hear when we walked in the front door and chirped for us to come pick him up. As bad luck would have it we were not allowed to have Elvis long. As he was a very young guinea pig, apparently his immune system was not developed enough and he died from an unknown infection about six weeks after we brought him home.



Two weeks ago we got Oliver. We have high hopes for Oliver as he is an older guinea pig and is very healthy. When he went to the vet, she told us he seemed very healthy and weighs 1.9 pounds. A healthy boy and a good eater.

Back at the end of October, to the day, The Kid turned 15 1/2 and in Ohio that means eligible for a temporary driver license, and god-help-me, got one. As I wrote in my last entry, that has been fun. Only 45 more hours of driving experience and class time to go.

In late fall we learned that one of our favorite things to do was coming to an end. The end of an era - Windjammer - the company that has provided tall ship adventures for years was having financial troubles and had stranded ships and crew in various ports around the Caribbean. I tried to set up links to the message boards where this unfolding event is being discussed, but those boards are gone or not working today. Its a good thing this wasn't on our to-do list for this winter!

Also this summer my neighbor moved away leaving her house to her son. An interesting hermit-like bloke who keeps to himself yet continues to add to the fine collection of vehicles in the driveway. This collection has been a constant source of interesting observations and inspiration for The Kid to utter some very funny things that sometimes end up as titles for blog entries. The obvious is so uninteresting.

So Happy New Year to you! All the best for the New Year!

Me & The Kid

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

You May Know Everything Some Day But Today Is Not The Day

In Ohio, in order for a teen to receive a "probationary" driver license they must take 8 hours of driving instruction in a classroom and then have 50 hours driving experience (10 at night) that a parent or other licensed driver will attest to in a signed affidavit. There are other requirements too, but as a homeschooler, these are the biggies.

Traveling in a car with a new driver is, well, interesting.

It has been suggested that beginner drivers start in a large parking lot and the biggest parking lot I could think of was the one near the raging Ohio river where we sometimes launch our kayaks. Needless to say that first day when The Kid was going to start driving. he was not amused when I appeared as the driving coach wearing a ski helmet and a snorkel. I wonder if the driver's ed instructors at the schools get to have as much fun.

It is amazing how the transformation from child to teen enables them to feel that they now know it all - until they sit in your car for the first time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Not Back to School: September 2007

Well as predicted, mother ocean called us back to visit and I couldn’t think of a better place than the Outer Banks in North Carolina. There are some awesome learning opportunities here.

Our studies this year include Aerospace Engineering, and what better place than the state that was “First in Flight”? Our trip included an afternoon flying kites on the very grounds where Orville and Wilbur Wright launched man into the space-age at Kitty Hawk, well really it is Kill Devil Hills, near Jockey's Ridge State Park, but who’s nitpicking on what we remember from our history? Before we left we studied the plane and the kites that were used at the Wright Brothers Aerospace Museum in Dayton, Ohio, but there's nothing like actually going to the place where flight began!

The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is an interesting step back into maritime history as are all the lighthouses in the area. The Whalehead Club has an interesting. It has been restored and is a fun place to visit, as well as the village that surrounds it. It isn’t as bustling as Roanoke or Williamsburg, as it tells a different story. It is a place where you can launch a kayak, have a picnic, catch a Blue Crab.

Also The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, located in Corolla between the historic Whalehead Club and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse had some awesome daily, free programs. There was a class on crabbing, kayaking on the Currituck sound and other items of interest to homeschoolers of all ages.

Hatteras Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is an awesome example of maritime life long ago. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is just one aspect you;ll find in this area. Cape Hatteras National Seashore preserves the portion of the Outer Banks of North Carolina from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island, stretching over 70 miles. Included within this section of barrier islands along N.C. Route 12, but outside the National Seashore boundaries, are Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and several privatecommunities.

The Outer Banks area was once dubbed the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" for its treacherous currents, shoals, and storms and Cape Hatteras has a wealth of history relating to shipwrecks, lighthouses, and the US Lifesaving Service. We went in search of the wreck of the Altoona, a fun outing, but kind of a snipe time we'll go better prepared with exact locations and a better map. The Outer Banks folklore is fun to read about and the idea that we were standing on the same beach as Blackbeard was pretty neat seeing how we fancy ourselves as pirates when we go Windjammering....

Currituck Sound Paddlin'

Alligator River Paddlin'

There are many kayaking opportunities at the Outer Banks. We paddled on the Currituck Sound, near the The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education and saw mainly marshy terrain. The Alligator River refuge, about an hour inland offered soem pretty interesting paddling as well, thought there was not an alligator to be found! We were treated to three brown bears munching on something in the middle off a grassy field. I think if we ever go back to the Outer Banks , we'll paddle around the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. It seemed like an interesting place.

Another bit of local lore I was determined to discover this trip to the Outer Banks was the Wild Horses of Corolla. Locally they are known as Banker Horses and are they something to see running out of the dunes. You need 4 wheel drive vehicle to get to the place where the horses live these days, but it is worth that effort.

So all in all, our celebration of "not" back to school was good. The kid got to try out some Aerospace basics learning to fly a stunt kite at Kitty Hawk and he started reading "Walden" by Henry David Thoureau. He says it's a great book about checkin' out. I agree.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Windjammer Ships and Pirate Adventures: Anguilla

Day 7: Anguilla February 23, 2007
The Best Beach in the World & The Diver Kid

I’ve been so busy reviewing books for our upcoming school year, I forgot to conclude the story of our trip on the S.V. Polynesia.
Anguilla has the best beach I have ever seen.

There is one stop light on this island and lots of goats. There’s also an Ace Hardware, in the middle of nowhere - no where near the stop light.
Anguilla is a place I’d like to explore more.

Shoal beach is an incredible stretch of land that I hope not too many people ever find. It is the real Caribbean. Desolate to the point that you can still find a patch of pink sand all your own, but populated just enough that you can get a decent cheeseburger if you really wanted one.

We rode on one of the local school buses to get to Shoal Beach, that’s the thing about Windjammer, you really do get to feel like your part of the island culture. We spent several hours strolling the beach, but as luck would have it, we had to find our own way back to the ship as we were leaving the beach earlier than the rest of our shipmates. The Kid was going to try scuba for the first time.

The taxi ride back from the beach was an interesting one. We shared the cab with one of the other three beginner scuba students and boy did we have a ball with the cab driver. He was very proud of his island, he said he would take us the best way back to the ship -- and he did. Apparently, Brittany Spears did one of her rehabs on this island and this was a big stop for the cab drivers to show non-locals. Our cab driver was no different. He also showed us many interesting places, that weren’t on paved roads and we eventually ended up in close proximity of the Polynesia.

The Kid had a rare opportunity presented to him earlier in the week. Windjammer had 3 dive masters on this ship, one was the resident dive master and the other two were new to Windjammer and were learning where all the great dive spots were from Tomas, the dive master on the Polynesia. There were three beginner divers. An interesting and rare ratio, so The Kid decided it was time. Floored the heck out of me because this is a kid who doesn’t like to swim, has had every swim lesson under the sun, but won’t swim. But I remembered this was also the kid who snorkeled with Nurse sharks at Hol Chan in Belize (that story for another day), so I signed the consent papers and let him have his adventure. The class was 4 hours, preceded with a safety video. It was an awesome opportunity in an amazing place. The Kid got to do a 20-40 foot dive in some of the clearest water in the Caribbean, an adventure he won’t soon forget. I wrote “He was all smiles when he got back from his dive” in my journal.

Anguilla is another place in the Caribbean that I would like to explore more. I think if I had to settle on a place today where I'd check-out in the Caribbean, Anguilla would be on my short list. Bequia is at the top, followed by Anguilla, then Mayreau. St. Vincent, Guadeloupe, Nevis, Statia, Dominica and several of the Grenadines are also places I’d explore further if I had the time and the sailboat.

Our Windjammer adventure ended in St. Marten, where it began. It was a great trip and I would recommend a Windjammer adventure to anyone taking their homeschool on the road. We’ll do it again.

And now it’s time to plan our Not-Back-To-School-Trip....we’re thinking the beach in September....

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Windjammer Ships and Pirate Adventures: Statia - The Real Caribbean

Day 6: Statia (Saint Eustatius) - February 22, 2007
The Real Caribbean and Crab Number 3

The real Caribbean is one you won't ever see from a cruise ship. The Windjammer fleet is rare and so are the attitudes aboard. Shipmates are just as interested in the real Caribbean as we are and that's what I like about sailing like this. You are on a huge, beautiful antique sailing ship with other sailing nuts going places only sailors - and - pirates know about.

Saint Eustatius, or Statia, as the locals call it, was my favorite place on this trip. It is also what you would call the "real Caribbean".

So What is the "real" Caribbean? Well, it's awesome people, black beaches, dormant volcanoes, history, hidden beaches all untouched by commercialism. No cruise ships.....

The journal entry I wrote in my diary:

"Statia is my favorite stop so far. It is what the Caribbean is really like for a traveler. The people are friendly. The buildings are old, historical and tidy. Black beaches and a dormant volcano. Blue beads once could be found on the beaches. The first country to acknowledge the new American flag after the [North] American revolution."

The blue beads of Statia were fun. Many of the locals had them, and the bartenders had the best ones, and the best tales.

It was hot in Statia, remember it was February, and we snowbirds were very happy to be there. In the morning, I got to explore by myself, a rare treat. The Kid was interested in the book he was reading...I suppose that's what I get for raising a bookworm...sigh. But it gave me the opportunity to get to know the island on my own. There is a museum on Statia that is filled with very awesome artifacts and documents of the long and colorful history of this island. The day we were on the island, one of the local schools was having a bake sale...good, good, good - if you like coconut.

It wasn't until afternoon, and it was well into the 100's that The Kid actually came ashore. Needless to say, I dragged him to the museum, past the bake sale [that was cleaning up to head to the beach] and The Kid got to see the famed blue beads [though later that day, the bartender had better ones than the museum!].

Though as remote as Statia might seem, it was there I had camera malfunction. Call it bad planning, bad Karma, or an invitation to really discover this island. I have a Nikkon that is far more complicated than I ever imagined and it went "haywire" tha day on Statia. The batteries died. Amazing as it might seem, we found in a small local shop, much like what you might find in Mayberry, batteries and a photographer who knew just what I needed. He also told me how to find the film I needed as well. That was an interesting walk through the "suburbs" to a local superette, run by an old Chinese guy who was happy to see us and very helpful as well....
The film was very important that day as that was the evening of the famous Windjammer Crab races [no crabs are harmed or treated badly!]. many of the crabs are celebrities on board. We won $16USD on crab #3.

You'll just have to go on a Windjammer adventure to find out what that is all about!

Next Stop: Anguilla

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Windjammer Ships and Pirate Adventures: Nevis

Day 5: Nevis -- February 21, 2007

Imitation is the Best Form of Flattery

As we saw in St. Barths, with the Mick Jagger imitator, a mirror image of something great is just that, or is it? Nevis, though in the French West Indies, is British, and looked to us anyway - a lot like Dominica. There was a rain forest, few people and the people were incredibly friendly - the ones we met anyway...Like Dominica, it teased us to explore further. It seemed to be a place where nature prevails and commercialism is prohibited.

Twenty years ago in St. Maarten a guy named Rainbow gave me a pair of bracelets he made of beads from natural plants on the island. He told me that they would bring me luck. They have. It wasn’t until a medicine walk in Nevis this year that I discovered this is true and what the name of the beads are. The bracelet has brown beads and red beads, both of native plants, the red beads are called Jumbie beads and are used in a tea to calm colic, or just about anything else that ails you.After our morning Medicine walk, a three hour moderate hike up the dromant volcano on Nevis, we relaxed on the deck of the Polynesia all afternoon. Normally we travel with our Teva sandles, but were told that Chaco's were far superior. Well let me tell you, I'll take the Teva's anyday up the side of a volcano!

Nevis is an Island I would return to. We didn’t get to spend enough time there and I really liked what I saw. There is a Four Seasons there that looked wonderful along with a few bars and restaurants. It is the kind of place to homeshool for a few weeks in the winter to be sure! The Travelin’ homeschooler and The Kid will return to this place for sure!

Next Stop: Statia

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Windjammer Ships and Pirate Adventures: St. Barts

Day 3: St. Bart's (Saint-Barthélemy)-- February 19-20, 2007
Carnival in St. Barts, Beach Au Natural & Mick Jagger Came to Town
The thing about traveling with The Kid is that you just never know what is going to happen once you are on the road.

After we left St. Maarten, we headed to St. Barths. It’s always so awesome when a huge sailing ship raises sails and the SV Polynesia is no exception. It was a beautiful clear day, 80 degrees and perfect weather for sailing. I didn't for a minute think about our hometown where temperatures dipped to below freezing...

St. Barths is a short sail from St. Maarten, so we accomplished this trip in no time. I have read St. Barts is a pretty nice place. Jimmy Buffet sings about “Old St. Barths”, but from our trip I can’t really tell what that might be all about. A squall came up out of nowhere and it was momentarily rainy when we arrived in St. Barths, but it was still hot so we headed ashore to Gustavia. Gustavia was a typical Caribbean town flanked by mountains, water and huge boats.

We went into town with with sailing mates from our Mandalay trip Judy, Palmer, Nell, Claude, Shary & Chris. In town, we all had different ideas about what to do so we split up. That’s what I like about those guys, they’re fun and share the same adventurous spirit that The Kid and I have.

The two Windjammer trips we have enjoyed have had very different sites, sounds, people but both have required “island work” in at least one of the ports. In St. Barths we were tasked with the very stressful job of finding a French bottle of wine. Now, being that this was a French island, this task was easy. However our first task was to find Shell Beach as it was rumored that it was loaded with shells.

The harbor in Gustavia

"Ghost Ship" Off the Coast -St Bart's

We thought it would be fun to rent a scooter for the day, but found out that wasn’t going to be possible as it was Fat Tuesday. Again, as it was a French Island, this promised to be a fun time. A parade was scheduled and The Kid just loves a parade, so with this news and a map, we headed on foot to Shell Beach. St. Barths was hot and all The Kid wanted to do was swim. Good thing he wasn’t in the mood to read French this day, but I saw the sign that included the words “Beach Au Natural”, once we hit the beach, the look on the Kid’s face was classic, but the water was nice. The captain had allowed us to jump from the ship to swim the day before, but that idea didn’t sit very well with The Kid as heights are not his first choice for fun, so this really was the first time in 2 days that we were able to swim. The beach really was loaded with tons of shells and the water was very nice, despite the "bare-naked" French ladies.

Shell Beach

After our swim at the beach, we did manage to find a great wine shop. The Kid isn’t a big fan of wine shops or of having to speak French to wine shop owners, so he waited outside. I managed to find a great red French wine and had a pretty good conversation with the owner, once we realized English was the better language for both of us. It turned out the owner was a Canadian who decided to check out in St. Barths. I have a list of good places to go the next time we are on this island courtesy of a wonderful retired Canadian.

As we headed back into town, it was clear that the Fat Tuesday parade was a bigger deal than we imagined. many of the streets in Gustavia were closed off and the crowds were really thick. We decided that even though it was raining, we were going to stay and see the parade. It was a big deal. Kids, Adults, floats, dancers, colors, beads and even Mick Jagger. Earlier in our trip, I spent a week with a friend at North Captiva. We spent many of those days laying on the beach watching small planes fly over, commenting that Mick Jagger has an island somewhere in that part of the world and that was most likely him in the small plane. Drove my friend nuts. As we discovered on that day in St. Barths, that island could be very near St. Barths....

Next Stop: Nevis

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Windjammer Ships and Pirate Adventures: St. Maarten

Days 1-3: St. Maarten/St. Martin -- February 16-18, 2007

What can you say about a month out of the cold? We’re good at being snowbirds? How about we went sailing on a big boat, err, ship in the French West Indies?

I think everyone has a little bit of a pirate spirit in them and sailing on a Windjammer ship is a good way to bring that out! One thing Windjammer employees will tell you is that “this ain’t no foo foo ship”...I am guessing it’s a jab at those huge floating cities we see invade tiny Caribbean islands...I’ve never been on a cruiseship....but being barefoot for a week on a beautiful antique ship is such a thrill. It’s also a good way to homeschool. You get culture,geography, history and even math and Science.

Just to start our adventure off early, we flew to St. Maarten 3 days prior to getting on the SV Polynesia. The last time I was in St. Maarten was almost 20 years ago and boy have things changed. The airport is no longer an open air shack on an airstrip (even going to St. Maarten they verify that you have your sun tan lotion squirreled away in 3.5 ounce bottles now).

St. Maarten in it’s heyday, was quite the hot spot, but those spots are gone now taken by hurricanes and better ideas, though some places remain. We stayed out at Cupecoy beach which is known for sandstone beaches and they still are quite beautiful, despite the obvious increase in tourism. There always was a charm to most spots in St. Maarten, the restaurants and inns and Hotels. The beaches still are great, and some are still clothing optional -- as always in places other than the US. The experience of a 14 year old boy and that of a “geezer” on one of these kinds of beaches is remarkably different as I found out. Enough on that topic The Kid says...

We rented a car in St. Maarten because The Kid just didn’t understand why I thought it was one of the more beautiful places I had been. Our plan for that day was to drive around the island and have lunch at Captain Oliver’s, and that’s what we did. With a map that we should have saved as a collectors item, we started out. “How can we get lost on and island?” The Kid wanted to know. “I don’t want to drive by the cool stuff, so pay attention to the map.” My attempt to get a map reading lesson in for the day.

St. Maarten is an island that is ruled by two different nations. One side is French and the other side is Dutch. Both sides are distinctively different and this was also part of the study. Marigot, on the French side is as bustling as ever, but far more cosmopolitan than we were looking for. We drove through Marigot and headed for Anse Marcel, a little off the beaten path and more like the St. Martin I remembered. We also headed to Orient Beach, the one all the cruise ships go to for the “beach au natural”, as the Kid read Our French lesson for the day. The beach was crowded, so we headed for Oyster Pond and Captain Oliver’s. This place was as good as ever and is still right out of a Buffett song.

Front Street in Philipsburg is quite different from 20 years ago. I think there are more diamonds and emeralds on this Island than anywhere else. It was also on Front Street three days later that we met up with sailing mates from our Mandalay trip Judy, Palmer, Nell, Claude, Shary & Chris...

Next Stop: St. Barts

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It's Good to Be Sunburnt and Greek

One of the really wonderful things about homeschooling and travel is that you get all that great socialization, especially if you are willing to participate in local cultural events.

We went to the Greek Festival in Sarasota, Florida over the weekend. More precisely it was called the Greek Glendi - A Greek Festival hosted by St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church. According to the program brochure we received, they were celebrating the music of Greece, which fits perfectly with our recent music studies.

There was a lot of music and dancing, with explanations of many of the dances.The St. Barbara Hellenic Dancers were in colorful costumes that showed authentic Greek history and culture. Every Greek costume is an interesting combination of garment and accessories that is characteristic of a group of people who live in a particular region of Greece. According to the narrator at the festival, there are songs for washing sowing, harvesting - there are love songs, lullabies and laments.

The Greek Orthodox Church evolved in the era of the Great Byzantine Empire, for those of you not up on the middle ages. Byzantine chanting is where a lot of the songs we heard came from. These songs were full of melody and harmony. The folk music of Greece claims a history that is long and checkered and worthy of every homeschoolers attention. Popular music commonly known as Bouzouki music possesses unique characteristics that existed in parts of Greece, yesterday and today. The emotions of the Greek people show through in the dances and and in the music we saw and heard.

Greek architecture is a study in itself. Some say the Greeks invented architecture. Anybody who saw the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" understands that sort of enthusiasm for anything Greek. But most Greek Orthodox Churches I have seen so far in our travels are pretty interesting structures and this building in Sarasota is no different. A beautiful dome amidst Palms and Banyon trees adorned with Spanish Moss. If you're interested, you can go inside these churches and see many beautiful icons, lots of candles and gold ornamentation.

Though the music and the architecture are part of the "study" of local culture, at a Greek festival, in our book, the food is always the attraction. Greek pastries and food are the best "fast food" you can get in my opinion. There's nothing better than a Gyro and Baklava and a stroll through the other food and crafts booths. Church festivals always seem to guarantee that homemade touch and the little old Greek Florida ladies were out in force at this one for sure....though none of them had key lime pies on hand...

At the Greek Market

Greek Jewelry

Greek Shaws

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Journeys in My Own Backyard: Teach Your Children Well

Me: “How would you like to go see the Rolling Stones movie at the OmniMax?”

The Kid: “ We see documentaries at the OmniMax. We learn stuff there. Why would I want to go see Mick Jagger 1,000 feet tall? Their logo came from somewhere.”

Me: “Sigh.” “How would you like to learn about how your mom spent, wait, misspent some of her youth?”

This was the deal sealer. The Kid was very interested in this idea.

It wasn’t Mick I wanted to see, anyway. I wanted to see Keith Richards 1,000 feet tall. I have always been a fan of Keith Richards.

Our local OmniMax has just been renovated and they were having special showings of The Rolling Stones, during their Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour, shot on location in Turin, Berlin and London. The show was pretty good and a great introduction to what a concert was like for mom when she was a teen. The performance included such classics as “Satisfaction,” “Ruby Tuesday” and “Start Me Up.” The showing was very loud and there was much eye-rolling from The Kid. His tolerance of “my music” was greatly enhanced when I told him to focus real intensely on Mr. Richards and think “Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man’s Chest”, Boostrap-Bill. The light went on and the rest is history. We had common ground for the moment, though I have to admit, I borrowed the Kid’s iPod once and there were some Stones on it. I guess the Music History classes are sinking in.

And he thinks he wants to go to a Buffett concert....