On The Trail

Homeschool Hiking


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Thomas, George, Grant & Lee plus the Blue Ridge Parkway

Last week we headed off to visit Virginia. Last summer Maddie asked if we could visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. Brian did a lot of research and found a cabin for us at Bear Creek Lake State Park in Virginia. It was located in a central spot so we could also visit Appomattox Court House and the Blue Ridge Parkway as well as being a beautiful spot itself. The cabin had a great room, 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and a lovely wrap around porch.

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This was the view from the porch the first morning we were there. Isn’t it beautiful? The birds were making quite a racket! The night before we had taken a small walk down the path to the lake. We saw a pileated woodpecker, song sparrows and a Great Blue Heron catching a fish for his dinner!

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Monday morning we took a small hike around the lake. We were trying to identify trees and had fun checking out the other plants. We also saw a butterfly and several other insects.

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We used our field guides to identify the butterfly as a red spotted purple. It was really cool…..more on those later! Maddie was very busy with her camera throughout the week. We will put her photos in a post of her own!

In the afternoon we headed to Appomattox Court House National Historic Park. Here we learned, contrary to every class any of us ever took regarding the Civil War (including the history major!) that the surrender didn’t take place in a courthouse but in a private home. Court House in this case is 2 words and means the county seat not a building. We were struck here by the obvious respect Grant accorded Lee. He was given the larger desk and more comfortable chair. Maddie worked very hard on the Junior Ranger booklet. This was easily one of the hardest ones we’ve ever done but she did get it done! Her reward was a special junior ranger badge for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, some cards with photos of the buildings on the site and a printing made on the old printing press that is a copy of the parole the Southern soldiers received.

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On Tuesday we spent the day at Monticello. We had a special behind the scenes tour. The tour lasted 2 hours and was very enjoyable. The guide was knowledgeable, cheerful and loved Maddie’s story of her first memory of Thomas Jefferson. We told her about it on the way to the kitchen. It was a book called Thomas Jefferson’s Feast and explained how much he enjoyed cooking and that he introduced macaroni and cheese to America. Of course, the more she learned about him the better she liked him until he became her favorite founding father. Our tour took us through the house everyone gets to see plus the upper floors where most people do not get to go. We couldn’t take photos in the house but we were able to take photos on the grounds. Maddie loved every minute of that and was very busy trying to get photos of the house without people around and got her macros lens out when we went around the garden. It was very hot that day…almost 90! We really enjoyed the house and grounds despite the heat. While we didn’t learn anything astounding and new, we did learn little bits that made Jefferson seem a little more real.

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On Wednesday we headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We spent time on a short section ending at Peaks of Otter Visitor Center. It was another beautiful day with temperatures in the 70s. We had great visibility at the overlooks and saw more butterflies than we could keep track of! Most of them were red spotted purples and tiger swallowtails. Maddie had her aquascope to check out some of the creeks. Maddie completed the Junior Ranger sheet for the James River visitor center earning a badge for the Blue Ridge Parkway and had a great conversation with the supervisor of rangers at the Peaks of Otter Visitor center. He told Maddie that he became a ranger because he couldn’t sit still in school and this let him be outside all the time. Maddie responded with “I know exactly what you mean!”. Maddie also told Brian and I later on how much she appreciates it when the rangers really check her work on the junior ranger book.

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Thursday we checked out of our cabin. When I made the last walk through I noticed a piece of paper on the desk in Maddie’s room and had to take a picture. I hope whoever checked our cabin and took the laundry enjoyed their note!

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After checking out we headed to Mount Vernon.  The house was really neat and the farm had a unique 16 sided barn of George Washington’s own design. We also enjoyed the museum. They did not live up to Monticello however! The staff was not as cheerful and it was so much more crowded it was hard to think!

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We had a great time! Planning may be starting for next year’s trip, once again centered around a national park.On the way home we saw this group headed to Washington DC. Maddie and I particularly enjoyed seeing the one lady in riding her motorcycle in the middle of the men! Happy Memorial Day!

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Forestry at the Bat Cave!!

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Ok, well, maybe it was Camp Shankitunk not the Bat Cave exactly! We had a great time and learned so much. We also learned that we have so much more to learn! Yikes! All 3 of us are interested in learning it though and one of us may need it in future park ranger work so we are going to start working on 4H Forestry Curriculum at home.

We arrived Friday night at dinner time and got settled into our cabins. Maddie and I were in the Bat Cave while Brian was in “Welcome to the Jungle” with the other dads and sons. Brian said the amount of snoring certainly made the name appropriate! We brought dinner along with us to eat then Maddie started getting to know some of the other kids that we would be spending the weekend with.

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We didn’t realize until Sunday that Maddie had ended up making friends and hanging out with a group of kids who were 14-just turned 16 years old. They didn’t realize how young Maddie was either! Obviously they all met in the middle and were enjoying each other. Have I ever mentioned how much we love 4H kids? Friday night also included a bonfire and games.

Saturday morning we got up, had some breakfast then headed off to learn some things! First up was how to use a Biltmore Stick to measure the diameter and volume of a tree. Volume of a tree being how many boards you could create and sell from the tree. Its a pure estimate and not an exact science! First they had to figure out their pace which was how far 66 feet would be for every 2 steps they took.

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I had to take this picture because I was waiting for someone to yell “For Narnia!!!” and take off but everyone was very absorbed figuring out what they were doing and missed the opportunity!

After this session we went inside for tree identification. In my world that would be how to use a field guide. In Forestry world it is memorize what the tree looks like so you can tell me later.

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After that was lunch. Meals were prepared by one parent who was in charge of that all weekend with both kids and parents helping to finish up and serve. We all chipped in to make the weekend work because that’s what 4H’ers do. Once lunch was eaten and the kids had raced around a bit we headed out for a hike. This 4H camp has a learning forest directly across the street which was donated for that purpose. There are examples of both good and bad practices in forestry. It was also on the side of a mountain. I thought we would never make it back to flat land!

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Then we moved on to maps and compasses. These were not easy sessions. I probably would’ve flipped that to morning if I was given the choice. Lots of math, lots of trying to follow confusing directions. The plan at home is to work on topographical maps this winter. These two pictures sum up Maddie and Brian’s feelings about them!

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I was very proud of Maddie! She certainly got frustrated but she stuck to it and did get some idea of what she was trying to do !

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Sunday was dedicated to testing the kids on the skills they had learned the day before. Maddie didn’t do as well as she hoped to do. Brian and I reassured her that we were there for fun and to check things out, not to ace a test. Maddie wants to be good enough to go to the National Competition when she is old enough (14 years) so we said we would study at home and work toward that goal. Goals are good. Knowing how far you need to go to reach the goal is even better!

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Working hard on her test!

All in all it was a great weekend with good people!

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Rangers, Owls and Shakespeare! What we’ve been up to!

Maddie finished her PASS test on Saturday morning. As a reward for completing it we headed up to the Saratoga National Historic Park to see a program with a wildlife rehabilitator. She brought raptors for everyone to see! Maddie was delighted and took many photos. They were so neat and some of the information the rehabilitator shared was so interesting. Did you know that the barred owl’s hearing is so good that he could hear everyone’s heart beating in the room? I couldn’t imagine the noise inside that poor owls head…the room was packed!

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screech owl                                                falcon

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Maddie and the barred owl-her favorite!

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Snowy owl named Oz. He immediately coughed up an owl pellet much to Maddie’s delight and several groans and “EEEEEUUUU”s from the audience.                                     .

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Harry Potter display! Snowy Owl on the right and a European Eagle Owl on the left.

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European Eagle Owl which is Draco Malfoy’s owl in the Harry Potter movies! Maddie got shots of him flying across the room to his perch!

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Then we headed out to check out a used bookstore and have some dinner at The Farmer’s Daughter. I couldn’t resist this shot!

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After that it was back to the park for a walk with the park naturalist. We were supposed to be seeing woodcocks but unfortunately we only heard them. Our big news of the night was spotting a Great Horned Owl sitting in a tree then flying across the field. We were thrilled. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get a good shot of the owl as it was too far away. We did try but really it looks like a blob in the tree! We did see a lot of other birds, heard a symphony of wood frogs and saw 3 deer.

Here are Maddie and Brian before the walk!

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Here are some of Maddie’s photos. We were out in the park until 9pm so we got to watch the sun go down while waiting hopefully for a woodcock to “dance”.

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Proof that Momma was indeed there!

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Can you spy the bird in the tree? It was a yellow bellied sapsucker.

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Maddie loves shots of trail or roads leading around the bend. At least they seem to show up often in her photos!

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It was a beautiful night. We could see all the way to Vermont!

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The photos above were all taken by Maddie at the Barber’s Wheat Field stop while waiting patiently for the woodcocks to put in an appearance!

We got home late, very tired but happy despite the woodcocks staying hidden!

Tonight we celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday (well, maybe…a best guess is April 23 but we haven’t had time until now). Maddie made some signs to hang up for Daddy when he got home.

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I made shepard’s pie which was the closest thing I could think of that would be easy on a weeknight to make for the time period. It may not have been exactly the right thing but meat pie was at least in the area! I used my new favorite recipe for shepard’s pie from The How Can It Be Gluten Free? cookbook. We also read some questions about Shakespeare’s life and some quotes from the plays to determine what the meaning might be. So many of our phrases and words today come from his plays. We had fun with that! Especially since many of them had some very silly incorrect answers.

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I also made cupcakes for dessert. The activity pack I purchased had the cards with questions, the poster and these cupcake wrappers among some other things.

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After dinner Maddie used her finger puppet theater to do parts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for us. That was a lot of fun to watch!

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(yup, I know she spelled his name wrong! We need to work on that I think!)

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I am quite please with how the Shakespeare unit turned out! Maddie is picking up the book by Charles and Mary Lamb to read the stories on her own now. She has read 2 of the plays using No Fear Shakespeare and liked them too. She is asking to read more of the plays so we will keep right on going! Brian was researching some of the plays that were made into movies so we can watch some too.

That has been our busy week! We are looking into more busy fun ahead!


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Winter Camp for Everyone!

Maddie has been waiting (not patiently I might add!) for at least 2 years to be old enough for winter camp. Finally this year she was able to attend!! We dropped her off on Sunday night at Camp Fowler with snowshoes, snowpants, 3 pairs of mittens and 2 hats. She couldn’t say good-bye fast enough so she could get to the fun! And fun she had. Lots of games, snowshoeing, playing around the camp and on the lake a bit. After much back and forth debate she took her first little camera which doesn’t take the best pictures. She did get a couple though!!

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playing with a snake…better her than me!                         snuggling up with Baldwin

After Brian and I left her we continued on to The Shamrock Motel and Cottages in Long Lake for our own winter camp! They asked if we would stay in a cottage rather than the efficiency unit because they wanted it to have some heat and water running(irony of that is we came home to frozen pipes in our downstairs bathroom!). We agreed to that plan at the same price we were going to pay to begin with! It was a lovely little cottage, warm and snug which was a good thing considering the temperature! We got up on Monday morning to a chilly -10 degrees without the wind chill.

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Thoughts of snowshoeing were put off until the afternoon!! Here is the view around our cabin.

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We went into town to check out Hoss’ Country Corner and had lunch at the diner. This week is “Winter Fest” for the area. There were several ice sculptures around the town. I am not sure if it was specifically for Winter Fest or just for winter in general they were fun though!

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In front of our hotel, of course!

This one is a bear with a fish in his mouth. It didn’t translate too well to the photo!

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View from the town beach.

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After lunch we headed back to our cottage and got on our snowshoes. Brrrr….we didn’t stay out too long but had fun tramping down the hill and about the edge of the lake a bit!

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Our cabin from the beach

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That’s our first and maybe last “selfie”!

We checked out at 10 on Tuesday and headed south to pick up Maddie. We didn’t need to be there until 12:00 so, not wanting to be early and getting a lecture from Maddie, we made a stop at the Adirondack Museum. They were open for the Frost Fest. We poked around the building that houses the carriages and sleighs.

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The snow roller made me smile. Thank goodness for modern snowplows!

After about an hour there we felt we could safely head for camp. I loved all the snoweshoes everywhere when we pulled in. Kids were definitely in residence!

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We took a picture of Maddie’s room and a couple of all the kids together. Then we had lunch and headed for home!

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Despite the frozen pipes surprise waiting for us at home we had a great time! Maddie insists she needs to go back now but I think she will have to wait.


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Getting Ready!

Maddie is so excited to be able to attend winter camp at Camp Fowler this year. She will be there for 2 nights and about 1 1/2 days. It doesn’t seem like much but it will be a wonderful break for her! The kids were told to bring snowshoes if they have them. Our family present this year was snowshoes! We went out on Saturday to try them out and didn’t do so well! Brian and Maddie’s snowshoes kept falling off their feet. Maddie has been practicing this week during the day to make sure she can get them on and off without a problem and keep them on! We’ve had quite a bit of success. Perhaps we were just too pressed for time and too tired coming off of a bout with the flu and ear infections for Brian and Jennifer. Any way she has been having a ton of fun on her snowshoes in the backyard making paths for the kids to follow. The littlest ones are grateful! I am not sure they would be able to walk in the amount of snow we have if she didn’t do that!

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How is school going??

I just sent in our second quarter report to the school district. I really must say I hate writing those things! They sneak up on me even though I set the dates for the reports. The good part is that it makes Brian and I pause and take stock of where we are in the school year and where we wanted to go! We are always very ambitious in August then the reality of toddlers racing about sort of sets in and we end up scaling things back a bit.

Maddie has transitioned into sixth grade work very well. She is coming along with math, always a difficult subject! Brian is working with her on Life of Fred decimals and we are doing some extra work on word problems. I have also been giving her my change from the grocery store to count. If she counts it correctly she gets to keep it, if not then it stays with Momma. So far she has been getting it right! Its been the best way to practice counting up coins that we’ve come up with so far. Writing with Skill is moving along easier this year as well. Maddie has started viewing the writing assignments as challenges to tackle. We just finished reading some poetry and both of us agree that we love to discuss the meaning of the poem itself but please do not ask us about meter or how many “feet” a line has. Its not our thing at all!! We finished astronomy and started working on Earth Science. Maddie and Brian did a fun experiment with a slinky and a jump rope last week to learn about different types of earthquake waves. History, as always, rolls along with no problems at all. It is, after all, a story of the world and who we all are and Maddie is a girl who loves a good story. We will be doing a unit on the Civil War over the next semester. Maddie loves Spanish quite a bit more than Latin but is doing well with both languages. Logic is another favorite subject. During the election this fall she kept pointing out “red herrings” when politicians came to the front door! Its hard to believe we are half way through the year! Today I sat down to write plans for the week and check some work from Friday. I found this note and have to wonder why on earth I would give this up to someone else.

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In other news Maddie had a lot of fun at a friend’s birthday sleepover. They did a “paint and sip” and made butterfly paintings.

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She also made a fort to read in on one of the icy days here and I loved looking over and seeing her toes peek out!

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This weekend was a full one! On Saturday we traveled up to Saratoga National Historic Park for the Frost Faire. We saw a cannon demonstration, Maddie did a colonial craft and we took a walk/hike which ended up being more of an exercise in staying upright on the ice!

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musket demonstration

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sledding next to the musket demonstration!

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The fields were beautiful! The chickadees and tufted titmouse were everywhere! They moved too fast for photos though.

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Maddie’s photos

Something fun happened this time while Maddie was taking pictures of the cannon demonstration. A young woman also taking photos with a similar camera accidentally stepped in front of Maddie to get a shot. She heard Maddie’s camera click and was instantly apologetic, making sure that she didn’t get in the way of the shot. Maddie assured her it was fine but I could see the glow that came from an adult recognizing for once that Maddie was working too! That was wonderful. Maddie said “Usually adults look at me like “what are you doing with that camera kid?” so it was nice!”. Our thanks to whomever that was!!

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smoke after the cannon was fired!

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Nature Trails and Aquascopes

We visited the Nature Center right next to Thatcher Park on the day after Christmas to take a short hike and work off some of the yummy roast beef from Christmas dinner. We really enjoyed the nature center and have marked it down as a place to visit on a rainy day. Today we were more interested in getting outside!

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This nature table really made me smile. Not only were things all over the top but in bins down the sides and things that wouldn’t fit were on the floor. Hmmm…looks like our house!

We started down the nature center trail first but it got very swampy very quickly. Maddie was the only one of us with waterproof boots! There were some pretty spots on this trail though!

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We turned around and went back to the parking area. This had a trailhead for the schoolhouse trail. That ended at a 1 room schoolhouse so we headed up there. We didn’t do the entire trail but did make it to the schoolhouse. Things were very marshy and swampy, not at all December weather!

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The schoolhouse has been restored and the ring next to it was kept from the original CCC camp and then a Boys & Girls camp. Both camps used it as a fire alarm!

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The birds have discovered our new bird feeders. I was able to get a fun shot of a tufted titmouse at the new window feeder. I didn’t notice our small defender of the seed until after I took the picture! It makes the shot even more fun.

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There may not be enough snow to play with the new sled, new snowshoes or new snowbrick maker but it means the water is open so Maddie could play with the new aquascope! We went down to Collins Park to try it out. There wasn’t much but rocks to see however it worked really good! Maddie can’t wait for spring and summer to do some exploring.

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I wonder what adventures tomorrow will bring!