Thursday, September 30, 2010

Belle Grove

Our first official field trip of the homeschool year was a trip to the plantation home of one of the first settlers in the Shenandoah Valley. Belle Grove was built in 1797 by  Major Issac Hite and his wife, Nellie Madison, who was the sister of  our fourth President, James Madison.
 Our trip just happened to coincide with the national Sheepdog Finals being held on the spacious property. Special activities for children had been planned and they seemed very happy to have us visiting. 16 families from our group came and of course, we had negotiated a very fair and discounted price for the day.

They divided our group of over 60 people into three sections. First,our small group watched a Blacksmith and his "apprentice" son make nails. It was very interactive and relaxed.
 Next, we learned all about the different plants that would have been grown there during the 1800's in garden plots.This Master Gardener really knew about each plant and picked off a leaf from many for the children to smell and feel.There was a garden for herbs, medicinal plants, succulents (plants that hold water) ,plants that are used to make dye, aromatics, flowers for cutting to be used as table decorations, and vegetables.
The kids were encouraged to make sachets out of flower petals and green clippings from the fragrant plants.
Then we were treated to a sheepdog demonstration.This gentleman from Wales, who had the most beautiful accent, showed us how the dog follows his commands to herd, in this case, ducks!
You could tell that this man loved the sport of sheepdog herding and he was very effective at it. The Border Collies actually do a lot of their own thinking while herding.They are not rewarded with food but with more purposeful work.The dogs love it, too.
The next demonstration that our small group cycled through was put on by three officers from the ATF (Alcohol,Tobacco and Firearms) unit. They showed us how their Labrador Retreiver could sniff explosives in very minute amounts.This dog is trained to recognize 18,000 ( or was it 1800) scents!

They had a line of cans set up and some of them had some kind of bullet or bomb in them.The dog would stop when he smelled those scents and refuse to move forward until the officer investigated the can.They also had a line of different types of luggage in the back. The dog sniffed along each seam of the piece to get a scent from inside of it.The officer said that they really trust their dogs.
We had a picnic on the grounds in the shade. The day had grown quite warm!
The main event of our trip was a guided tour of the Manor House. The Docents let us into each room to really see it and explained the antique furniture and the lifestyle of the family. This was a 7500 acre grain plantation when the Hites owned it.Years later, the Civil War Battle of Cedar Creek would take place all around it. The house was not destroyed in the war because the Generals occupied it and made this house their headquarters.
After the House Tour, each family was on their own to stay to watch the sheepdogs herd or go home and put the baby to bed! We walked down to watch for a short while.People were there from all over the country and Europe competing in the Finals.

 This Handler didn't do too well- even I could tell that these sheep were herding the dog! I've never been a dog girl but the folks here were passionate about this breed for this purpose.

The weather was sunny although a trifle hot for some.We thoroughly enjoyed our day in the country experiencing life the way it was in the olden days.It was great to have such a large turnout for a field trip and we are all looking forward to many more!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Squirrel, I mean Turtle!

Recently, I was reminded of the movie "Up" when we were all seated in the living room to begin the school day. While reading the Magnificat, which has the daily Scripture readings for that day's Mass, Sam looked out of  the window and saw from quite a significant distance a turtle walking across our neighbor's driveway.
He ran out the door with all the kids behind him.That was the end of our time for prayer and meditation. I knew then that there would be no need to have his eyesight checked either.
They followed this "rabbit trail" which is homeschool talk for "Squirrel" (a metaphor from the movie), representing interesting distractions that divert one's attention from the task at hand. That isn't always a bad thing! 
By placing our baby pool on a hill, the hole in it which makes it useless as a swimming pool became a non-issue.They turned the hole uphill, filled that section with grass and put water in the downhill part so that this amphibian could have both a wet and dry environment. Shade was the next necessity because turtles usually get under cover in the heat. In fact, the best time to find a turtle is just after a rain storm, but this one was out on a clear morning.
We have seen quite a few box turtles over the years and this one seemed bigger than most.
The little guy was enjoying every minute of the excitement on this pretty morning.
Sam offered the turtle some fish food.
It was nice to see the kids having some fun and working together to create a habitat for this "pet for a day".
We kept the turtle until evening and then released him so that he could get back to safety and not be harmed by being in captivity for too long.

Cool Guys

 These guys were out in the woods and found this cute little pot in the dirt. They are pretty sure it is from Ancient Greece! They came over to show it to me near our well where we were expecting servicemen to arrive.
They looked so tough that they reminded me of a song from a You Tube video " Cool Guys don't look at explosions... They blow things up and they walk away..."

I loved seeing them in their hunting vests and took their picture near our overturned wishing well.They didn't blow it up, though they did help me to ease it over. Our water pressure has been reduced for over two weeks and I finally decided to make a call to get an expert opinion.
The bad news is that our well is drying up. These gentlemen were able to install a new pump and sink it deeper for now. It is not deep enough to last in the drought that we have been experiencing. They recommend that we get the paperwork prepared to get a deeper well drilled as soon as we need it.
In the meantime we are trying to conserve water and to pace ourselves in its usage. In other words, I should not start the laundry immediately after the morning showers are taken.This is something new for this City Slicker. I will start to pray for rain in earnest!

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Hiking We Will Go

 A few weeks ago, we took advantage of a beautiful late summer afternoon to go hiking on a Civil War Battlefield that has been turned into a 5 mile nature trail.We hiked about two miles.
 We invited our homeschool group to join us and two other families came along.
 A small creek runs through the property.

 Interpretive signs mark the way.
 Benches in the shade allowed for a resting spot to share silly bands with friends.
Bike trouble is no fun. When the chain came off, this guy ditched his bike behind a tree to be picked up on the way back!
 One of our families is a Dad who homeschools his sons. He rode his bike and so most of the boys  rode on ahead with him.They set their bikes up on the bridge for us to admire when we caught up to them.

 Some of the trails are paved but most are packed gravel.There were some pretty sites to see! The changing shadows reflected the season of Autumn approaching.

 Because we are not hooked into a curriculum that has deadlines for the first time in years, I am making it a point to get outside and enjoy life! We work hard at home each day; but if an opportunity arises to be with other people and to see or do something fun, I want to go! This hike was just the thing on a Friday afternoon to wrap up a hard-working week!