On The Trail

Homeschool Hiking

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3 National Parks, 1 House of John James Audubon and 1 Chocolate World in 3 days!

Our beginning of vacation plan was to take Maddie to Valley Forge. What actually happened was a 3 day whirlwind camping trip where we took in Valley Forge plus 2 other National Parks, the home of John James Audubon then came home via Hershey, PA! We had a lot of fun, got “turned around” numerous times and came home with lots of Junior Ranger experience, pins and other things!

We decided to stop at Morristown National Historic Park on our way to our campsite at French Creek State Park in PA to break up the trip. This turned out to be a HUGE National Park and one we will need to visit again soon. Maddie was able to complete the Junior Ranger program at the site despite our short time there. We were really impressed with the way she paid attention to the signage at this park as she worked on the packet. This park is actually a couple of places that string out in Morristown so once you stop at one place you need to get in your car and drive over regular highways to get to the next place. The Revolutionary Army camped here during the winter on more than one occasion. There was a lot about Washington, his officers and the regular army soldiers.




We made camp at French Creek State Park which was a wonderful spot. It was quiet, pretty and clean. Maddie discovered a trail off the back of our campsite obviously made by other kids and probably adults since it ended in a small clearing with a fire pit not made by rangers. Maddie loved that spot. It was a perfect place for playing Narnia or King Arthur which she did with abandon while we set up the tent and worked on dinner. Here are some of her photos with her new big hand me down camera from Poppa Bill of the campsite.



The next morning we were up and on our way to Valley Forge! Sort of….the directions were a bit muddled and combined with bad road signs (as in no road signs!) it took a bit of work to get us there but we did indeed make it!



Baldwin was along for the ride so he could report back to the rangers at the Saratoga National Park! We had some fun in the visitors center first and visited the gift shop to get an audio CD tour of the encampment and, of course, some junior ranger pins! There was a Junior Ranger program here as well. Maddie and I sat down in some benches to check what she would need to complete when we overheard a man next to us. He was in wonder that the revolution started before 1776. Maddie looked at me with big round eyes and said “What??” meaning she couldn’t believe an adult wouldn’t know that fact. Later, when we were out of earshot, Brian and I explained that we felt it was a failure of his education (meaning both parents and school) and that we are glad the National Parks are there to help him fill in the missing information. He was reading and paying attention so there isn’t much more we could ask of him! She agreed but was still amazed that someone who appeared to be not much older than her own parents was missing some vital historical facts. After the visitor center we set out on the tour road. The first stop was at the re-created soldier huts. There was an interpretive ranger working there dressed as a soldier. We talked to him about the huts and soldier’s life then asked about his job since I overheard the him tell the people ahead of us that he had been a ranger for 25 years! He talked to Maddie a bit about the job and how it would be hard but not impossible to get a position. He finished up by telling her he hoped she would make it because they need her!

Momma’s photos:



This photo is about 2 steps in from the one up top with Maddie taking her first photo of the day. Notice who is now carrying the bag and tripod! Lucky girl to have an attentive Daddy to help her out!




Maddie’s photos:






Then we went to the Washington Memorial Arch. Such good shots here!

Momma’s photos


Maddie’s photos





Washington’s Headquarters’s was the next stop. This was the house where he lived with Martha while planning strategy with his officers. Hamilton and Lafayette were here as well. We went into the train station first which gave some background about the house and the huts out back. Washington’s bodyguard, an elite force, stayed in these huts.
Momma’s photos






Maddie’s photos




We had a little bird watching there too! Can you find the goldfinches?



We also made a stop at the artillery park before moving on to the Washington Memorial Chapel.
Maddie’s photos



The chapel is beautiful. The stained glass is gorgeous and symbolism is everywhere. Maddie was enthralled with the entire thing! She was having some trouble focusing on her photography skills while trying to take it all in. The chapel is still an active church. I looked down the aisle and told Brian it was hard enough to walk down the aisle at our own church to get married…I can’t imagine walking down that one! Maddie thinks she could do it in a heartbeat…Brian and I told her to win the lottery if she wants that to happen!

Momma’s photos






Maddie’s photos








Looking out from the courtyard next to the chapel with the Washington Monument and flag in the distance


After that stop we went back to the visitor center to turn in Maddie’s Junior Ranger packet and get her badge. We learned a valuable lesson here as well! Usually they just check the packet, tell Maddie she did a great job and hand the badge over. This time a volunteer checked Maddie’s packet (an adorable grandmotherly type woman) and she asked one of the rangers to swear Maddie in as a Junior Ranger. Did Momma have her camera? No. Was Daddy with us? No, he was parked in front of the visitor center wondering what was taking us so long. So from now on, no matter how far away the darn parking lot is or how little time we think we have, we are parking the car and bringing the camera! Major fail on the parentals there… But Maddie loved it and I am thinking it will happen again at another spot. I hope!

We then went around the block and up the road (Pennsylvania has odd traffic patterns I have to say!) to the John James Audubon Home. On the way we passed Freedom’s Foundation and stopped for some pictures of the giant flag and flagpole and statues.
Maddie’s photos





Unfortunately the home of Audubon itself was not open on mondays but we were able to walk the grounds. It was very neat because we suddenly remembered we were in the same place he used to walk and enjoy the outdoors! Bird houses and feeders were everywhere. We heard many but only saw a few plus a woodchuck/groundhog and some deer. There were large black statues of birds as we entered too!

Momma’s photos









Maddie’s photos











The next day we made our way around the corner (really!) to the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Park. We meant to simply check it out and mark it off for later. The rangers talked us into walking through the village and allowing Maddie to complete the simpler of the 2 Junior Ranger booklets they had available. So we ended up being there for 1 1/2 hours. That is actually record time for our family in any type of National Park, Historical Monument or museum! We would love to go back there another time. It was very interesting! The furnace made iron which was then molded into cannon for the revolutionary war and stayed in operation making many items including the Hopewell Furnance line until the 1900s. Maddie got another badge and we were on our way to Hershey, PA!

We had a fun time in Hershey! Street lamps with hershey kiss tops, candy everywhere…who couldn’t have fun right? We spent some time in the gift shop area then we made our own desserts! This was a lot of fun. Maddie and I chose a cookie while Brian chose a cupcake then we headed over to the toppings bar to load up on frosting and candy to put on top of it. While we waited for the baked goods to arrive we got to play with edible paint. Yum!
All photos in Hershey by Momma!



















We also took the Chocolate Factory Tour which is not actually in the chocolate factory but a simulation. While it would’ve been interesting…there were singing cows. Loud singing cows. They drowned out the more interesting information we were trying to glean from the overview we were getting in our little car taking us through the exhibit so that was a bit disappointing. What was not disappointing however was the trolley tour through Hershey. We had excellent seats right in the front and an even better tour guide who truly loved Milton Hershey’s story and made it come alive. Did you know that Milton Hershey and his wife started a school for orphans and poor children? At the end of his life Milton signed over all his holdings in the Hershey company to the school and it is still active today! Any time you purchase a Hershey product part of the proceeds go to supporting the school and the children living there. A wonderful legacy to leave behind!













After leaving Hershey we headed back home….very late! We were tired but happy!! And we still have more vacation left! Yay!!!



Yarn Along


Hi! Joining Small Things for the yarn along today. I am still listening to the audiobook called The Gathering Storm that I mentioned last week. That series is so good! This week I started reading 2 new and new to me books. One I received for my birthday called The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer. This is Maddie’s time period for history this year and I decided I would like some more in depth information. I decided to read it at breakfast when my brain is fresh and awake! Not to mention if I fall asleep with this in bed I will end up with a bloody nose. Its huge! I am enjoying it!! The other is called Red Tails in Love. We picked it up at the library book sale. This one really good too. I haven’t read too much but the start is all about the birders in central park. Lots of fun!

In knitting I am doing a lot of dishcloths at the moment because they are easy! I don’t seem to have a lot of brain power left by the time I sit to knit at the end of the day and these are just humming along. I suspect I will be giving them away since I don’t really need any at the moment. The pattern is really fun and I got it from here. I am using dishie yarn from knitpicks and will probably get into my stash of sugar and cream too.

What are you knitting and reading??


Yarn Along!


We are back to school this week and also at the fair so not a lot of knitting or reading is being done by me for fun! I did have a few minutes this morning before kids arrived for day care so I was able to do a couple rounds on socks for me while listening to The Gathering Storm from The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I have really been enjoying listening to these books. I have 3 more to go before the series is done! They are complicated so I have to stay on my toes.

What are you reading and knitting? Has school started for you yet? Joining Small Things.


First Day of Sixth Grade

Its hard to believe but today we embarked on Sixth Grade! What a long way we have come and what a long way yet to go but this is a milestone midway along. Maddie is growing up quickly…sometimes it seems like its a couple of years in just a week! We are still enjoying every minute and sticking to traditions like the Back To School Fairy.


And headed outside for a few pictures before the day care kiddos appeared on the scene!




Maybe a few too many pictures!

Then we were off on the day! Unlike last year Maddie was used to the schedule and routine. She ate her breakfast and with only a little coaxing from me headed upstairs to get started.

So what are we doing any way?? We are in the second year of the “Logic Stage” of the Trivium. We are now fully into analyzing the information we are given, looking for slants to the story and asking a lot of questions.
We are using a new history encyclopedia this year since Maddie’s reading level is already at the high sixth grade level and history comes so easily for her. It was time to challenge her a bit! We got the DK History of the World. Just like last year Maddie will read a page (or pages depending on the topic of the week), make notes, make an outline then finish with a summary of the information. We are also using a pre-printed timeline called The World History Chart. We tried to make one last year but discovered that its really not our thing! Our time period is 400-1600AD, the Middle Ages. Knights, Shakespeare, Kings and peasants. Brian will also be working with Maddie on a book called Painless American Government. The goal is for Maddie to have a basic understanding of how our government is supposed to work.

English will also revolve around the middle ages. So Maddie will read books about that time period and also dip into Shakespeare a bit. I am excited about the book in the picture called How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. We are going to learn how he wrote the language and do some memorization. We started All About Spelling this summer for spelling and it seems to be going well so far. I’ve noticed some improvement any way! We are flying along because we started at level 1. The phonics review has been a wonderful help! We are continuing with Writing with Skill Level 2. It worked well last year. Its not Maddie’s favorite thing but as she works through it I know she is gaining the skills she will need later in life. Not everything can be fun and wonderful! I did agree to let her try The Creative Writer this year as well and Maddie is really looking forward to that. The difference is that Writing with Skill is teaching her to write reports and summaries while The Creative Writer is all about writing stories. Figurative Language is about analyzing literature and knowing terms simile and metaphor. I felt we were lacking this and I think this little workbook will help. G.U.M. Drops is something we started mid-year last year and Maddie really enjoyed it. It is basically practice in grammar and spelling by proof reading. Passages have been taken from classic literature and re-written to the grade level and with mistakes. In fact she started reading The Call of the Wild because she read parts of it in GUM drops. We added in Analytical Grammar which is a multi year program that will end with Maddie having a grammar handbook of her own to use going forward. She has a very good grounding in grammar and we only need something to keep her skills sharp. I think this will be it! It has 10 weeks of lessons followed by 1 day of review every other week. I think it will be enough without being overwhelming.


Science this year is Astronomy and Earth Science. We will be using Elemental Science as we have in the last few years. I love how the program is laid out and it follows The Well Trained Mind. I had a chuckle when cleaning out last year’s books and binders to make room for this year’s set. Maddie insisted that her Nature Encyclopedia had to stay with her schoolbooks. A naturalist needs their resources Momma!!


We are continuing to use Teaching Textbooks. Maddie enjoys being able to work on her own with the math program and getting the immediate feedback is helping her a lot. We are going to continue along with Life of Fred Decimals. She finished Fractions over the summer. We are also going to work through a book to help her with word problems and a very short one from “Real Life Math” about The Erie Canal. Practice is the main thing with math!


Maddie will be continuing with Lively Latin this year. It certainly helps with her vocabulary and grammar. We have added in Spanish this year. If she continues along to become a National Park Ranger this will certainly help her out. She started that today and enjoyed it! The program is written as a story/mystery and she will solve it as she continues along.


This was a fun purchase for art and nature study. Even more fun was the book arriving and being a signed copy! We had no idea when we ordered it! I love the drawing lessons. I suspect Maddie will not be the only one using this book! We also got an art program called Art Adventures in Narnia. So maybe we will see some drawings of Mr.& Mrs.Beaver soon!


Maddie was excited about this purchase believe it or not! Although she doesn’t really like handwriting she knows she needs to practice to get better. This program will let her practice using quotes from Presidents. She has started with George Washington. This will run right through high school as well! Practice makes perfect and handwriting is becoming a lost art almost.

So our first day went well and we are looking forward to tomorrow! Hopefully we have smooth sailing this year!

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To the Fair We Go!

This morning Maddie put the finishing touches on her projects and we carefully delivered them to the fair. She entered a photo story using her robin’s nest pictures, her achievement book and a birdhouse made from a coffee can and 45 record.


First Maddie spoke with the judge about her birdhouse. This went under “recycling”.

Maddie had a good time speaking with the judge about her photos. They spoke for a long time! The judge for the nature section even jumped in with some questions!





Then Maddie spoke with the judge about her achievement book.
All her projects won blue ribbons!

Then we met up with Maddie’s friend Norah and her family to work on our 2 club exhibits. One was about making pillowcases for ConKerr Cancer and the other was about the jumping jack a thon to raise food for the SICM food pantry.







While we were working they brought in Maddie’s photo and Brian snuck over to take a picture!

Now we wait a week then go back to work in the snack shop. Strawberry Shortcake anyone??

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Picking Up from Camp


We picked Maddie up on Saturday morning! She was cheerful, happy and had a wonderful time. We saw Aunt Deb, her cabin counselor, before we saw Maddie. She made sure we were Maddie’s parents then said “Maddie was just wonderful! She is so sweet and is kind to everyone.”. Music to our ears! And we appreciate Aunt Deb’s care of Maddie over the week more than we can say! As much as Maddie loved camp last year this year went over the top because she enjoyed her cabin mates and Aunt Deb.

After getting things settled in the car, making one final trip to the store and just saying a good-bye to a favorite spot or two we took Maddie down to our favorite state campground at Sacandaga for the night. It was a surprise for Maddie! We had a fun day just enjoying time outside and coming together again as a family. We tested out some new cooking equipment from Mamaw Louise! A popcorn popper and a pie iron! This was a lot of fun but we were in bed early as we were all tired!


Just a little tired and silly!

The walkie talkies were fun too although (to be honest!) Brian and I used them more than Maddie! I don’t think she was quite ready for any sort of civilization yet!

We made pizza in the pie iron using white bread (Udi’s gluten free for Bri!), my homemade pizza sauce, cheese and pepperoni. There are a lot of things we can make in here but that one was everywhere! It seemed like a good first thing to try. It came out GREAT!



We know Maddie had an excellent week and weekend because she came home with only wet shoes! The hiking boots were dry until she took a wrong step down by the river at the campsite. At least only her foot got wet that time!

Now Maddie is looking forward to the fair for the summer and winter camp this winter!!!