Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lousiana Swamp

Thanks to my friend, W, we arranged a tour of the Louisiana swamp with Airboat Adventures, located south of New Orleans.

This was a two hour tour in this airboat.

First we were shown the difference between marsh and swamp. This is marsh or boggy land. What appears to be land is floating on top of the water so if you jump up and down on it, a large area around your feet will go up and down with you.

Swamp is swallow water separated by land. Note the cypress knees, woody projections that extend above the waterline and serve to anchor the cypress tree in the muddy soil and may have some role in providing oxygen to the tree.

We saw lots of alligators. This one was about 6 feet long.

Here Captain Kevin is getting close and personal with the gators. Note the marshmallow in the water by the boat. This is what the airboat captains use to get the alligators to swim to the boat. Who knew alligators liked marshmallows?

This one is a bit longer, 7 or 8 feet. Most we saw were in the 4-6 feet range. Captain Kevin told us a lot about the state's control of the alligator population, with some hunting but also the careful collection of the eggs and raising of the baby alligators.

Here is a ribbon snake, very thin and 15 inches or so long. You may be able to see it better if you click on the picture.

That is about the only wildlife we saw, alligators and ribbon snakes, which was the only disappointment to the tour. The airboat was quite loud so it certainly can't sneak up on anything. But it was a lovely day and zipping around through the water was a lot of fun.

Thanks, W. PRM

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dauphin Island, Alabama

This was our first tourist stop. Dauphin Island is a barrier island at the mouth of Mobile Bay. It is only 166 sq miles, a long thin island with the Intercoastal Waterway to the north and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. Before crossing the four mile bridge to the island we had to pull the truck and trailer off the road so Noach could have his Monday afternoon Rabbi lesson by phone.

We stayed in the only campground on the island and were within easy walking distance to the gulf beach. The beach season has not quite begun so there was not a lot going on on the island.

That meant we had an uncrowded beach to enjoy. Jasper enjoyed the water, wading out cautiously. Once the waves caught him and he had to swim, which he did well but did not seem to enjoy. After that he was even more cautious.

He did enjoy rolling in the sand.

At the east end of the island, again within walking distance of the campground was Fort Gaines. This fort was first established in 1821 and was important in the Battle of Mobile Bay in the Civil War. It was in service as late as World War I.

While we were there a blacksmith was demonstrating his skills. He was a very pleasant and knowledgeable fellow who spent an hour just chatting with us while creating items from really hot metal. The forge he was using was used by soldiers 150 years ago.

On the second morning, everyone but me took the ferry from Dauphin Island to Gulf Shores, going across the mouth of the Bay. I skipped it because I am very susceptible to motion sickness and it was becoming windy and the water a bit choppy before the ferry took off. I jumped off the ferry and walked across the road to the campground, where I spent the rest of the day doing laundry.

Later that day, the kids rented mopeds, Yakov and Noach on one and Shoshie on the other. After about half an hour, Yakov and Noach had spun out and injured themselves slightly. Noach called it a day but Yakov kept riding. They both had extravagant bandaging done by the local EMT. The police and EMT were very nice to the boys. Fortunately there was minimal damage to the cycle also.

Next, the Lousiana swamp. PRM

Friday, May 15, 2009

Today we celebrate

C, our much loved daughter-in-law, who became an American citizen yesterday. We called her in the late afternoon and sang the Star Spangled Banner to her. I wonder if Colombia, her native country, has a better national anthem. We love that baby girl too.

We have had VERY little Wi-Fi and I am having a hard time posting today so I'm just posting the important stuff. Maybe tomorrow night. PRM

Sunday, May 10, 2009

On the road again

We left home Saturday for our annual trailer vacation, with San Antonio and Austin as our goals. The first day was, as always, trying. The teens have mixed feelings about leaving their friends but they also have fun traveling. Thus this inner conflict is expressed in lots of external conflict.

We were on the road by early afternoon and traveled about 200 miles, to Anderson, SC. Even that short journey was not uneventful, because of the sudden expulsion of the passenger side windshield wiper in a rainstorm. We traveled the last few miles with a wad of napkin affixed with duck tape to the metal end of the wiper arm.

This morning we had a festive Mother's Day breakfast at Denny's. It was fun if not particularly good. Note to Aunt H- One of the breakfast items was Moon Over My Hammy.
Tonight we had a pleasant meal here in our little mobile home. PRM

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Last band concert

Last night, Yakov went to his last Homeschool Band Spring Concert.

Yakov and Shoshie joined the band in 2001, playing trumpet and clarinet. Shoshie took up the oboe a couple of years later but lost interest in the band two years ago.

Yakov dropped out of the band in 2003 when he gave up the trumpet for the bass guitar. He had found his father's old Fender bass in the attic during the summer. The bass has proven to be Yakov's favorite instrument, although he is quite talented on guitar and drums as well.

He rejoined the band in the fall of 2004 when the band director needed the bass's sound to fill out the band's brass and woodwinds. Over the last few years, Dr. Renfroe has come to rely on Yakov, both for his sound and his musicianship.

Last night, Dr. Renfroe gave Yakov the Director's Award. He paid tribute to Yakov's essential place in the band, for his leadership with the younger band members and his mentoring of those who have also wanted to play bass.

The Homeschool Band and Dr. Refroe brought out the best in Yakov. PRM

Chemistry Magic Show

For the last lab of the year, the older kids who have been doing Chemistry all year, performed a Chemistry Magic Show for the younger kids as well as a few guests. This was followed by a lunch together. It was a lovely day so we brought lunch and ate outside by the playground.

The tricks came from About.com:Chemistry and Countertop Chemistry. We practiced the tricks last week and I worked on them all week. Only 4 older kids were there for the last lab so I choose 4 tricks. I prepared a program written in Invisible Ink, phenolphthalein, that I developed onsite with dilute ammonia.

The first trick, here rendered by our Master of Ceremonies and his beautiful assistant, is Money to Burn. I missed the flames because I was helping the others but I was told they were a beautiful green because of the Copper Sulfate added to the alcohol.

The Cat's Meow was next. Everyone gathered around the table to watch this one. It is a bit slow but definitely cool.
The Witch's Potion required enthusiastic volunteers. Oohs and aahs followed.

We concluded the tricks with a Patriotic Flourish as the beakers contained Red, White and Blue solutions.

But the real finish was a previously prepared Smoke Bomb. The wind was brisk but plenty of smoke was produced. I used a recipe from Anne Marie Helmenstine and it was successful and amazingly easy to make.

This group has been a true pleasure to work with for the last two years. I will miss them.

Another year of labs concluded. I am planning to skip next year except for what Noach and I do at home. PRM

Monday, May 4, 2009

Definition of pandemic

I think the definition of pandemic has been lost in the discussion of the swine flu.

Pandemic only means that the virus is widespread and that seems to be the case. This is not surprising in this age of jet travel.

Pandemic does not define the virulence of the disease. Fortunately, at this time, the current swine flu virus doe not seem to be extraordinarily virulent, perhaps no more so than the usual seasonal flu.

This week the WHO is likely to increase the level alert to 6 but this is an expression of the spread of the virus, not the virulence. See this website for further information.

We need to pay attention but it certainly is not time to panic. For this family, the question is, is it time to go to San Antonio, Texas? The answer, so far, is yes! Moving out Saturday.PRM