Category Archives: By Lillian.

Universal Studios and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Part Two

My last post was about our recent trip to Universal Studios, but there was so much to tell that I simply couldn’t complete it in one post. I don’t know how many posts it will come out as, but probably a few. So this is part two. 

After wandering around Diagon Alley and attempting to absorb it all, we decided to head to one of The Wizarding World’s rides. Strolling through one line which led straight through Gringotts bank,  I continually gasped and pointed at small details only a true fan would notice. As we passed a set of golden doors engraved with a poem I knew by heart, I recited dramatically:

“Enter, Stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed.
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath these floors,
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware,
Of finding more than treasure there.”

Goblins

In the ride, you were led through several top-security vaults by Bill Weasley and Griphook the goblin, while being attacked by many security measures which Gringotts puts up against intruders. It was a ride of great quality, being mostly digital but very well done.

Knockturn Alley we had yet to visit. I knew, of course, what it was supposed to be like, and upon finding it I was not in the slightest disappointed. There was Borgin and Burke’s, a store of dark magic into which Harry had once inadvertently stumbled, and in the corner was a vanishing cabinet, and in a glass case was a cursed necklace, and you could there by a “hand of glory,” a severed hand which gave a light which only the holder could benefit from. Or rather, that was the idea; but, of course, these were only skeletal plastic hands with a hole for a tea-candle. I cast a silencing charm on some severed heads, lit a digital bird on fire, and magically unlocked a door – though it still couldn’t be opened. Everything was dark in Knockturn Alley, though outside the world was bright and cheery. A couple cloaked and hooded wizards roamed the streets, looking forbidding; they were only kids in costume, but they had gotten quite into character.

Hogwarts castle in the distance.
Hogwarts castle in the distance.

We stopped into Florean Fortescue’s for earl grey and lavender flavored ice cream, which turned out to be pretty good but still tasted far more like lavender than the earl grey we were hoping for. We drank some delicious butterbeer, enjoyed pumpkin juice, and nibbled a gigantic chocolate frog. Every frog comes with a famous witch or wizard card, and I, a Hufflepuff, got a Helga Hufflepuff card with my first and only frog! We got some gillywater as well, which is nothing more than regular water with a fancy sticker on the bottle, but throughout the day we kept refilling both its bottle and that of the pumpkin juice.

Diagon Alley, I think, was the best part of Universal. Everything else was really fantastic as well, but nothing, not one single thing, could top the magic of this magical shopping centre.

Universal Studios and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Part One

The occurrences of this post took place some time ago, but due to several distractions I am only writing them out now.

Gordon and I were given tickets to Universal Studios for Christmas – it was a three-day pass, including both the Universal Studios park (with Diagon Alley) and Islands of Adventure (boasting Hogwarts and Hogsmeade), and a park-to-park pass which allowed us to ride the Hogwarts Express between the two. Now, if you’re one of the few unfortunate people in this world who hasn’t read J.K. Rowling’s enchanted Harry Potter series, I’ll have to explain some things. Diagon Alley is a street full of wizarding shops, in between Horizont Alley and Knockturn Alley – which is crammed with stores for dark wizards. Hogwarts is, of course, the wizarding school which students attend between the ages of eleven and seventeen, and Hogsmeade is “the only all-magic village in Britain,” located right by Hogwarts. So now that you know the basics, let’s begin.

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Just me, being astonished.

I don’t want to give too much away for those of you who may be going in future, but at the same time I’d rather not make this a bland article, so I’ll do my best to obtain a spot in the happy medium.

We started at Universal Studios and hurried through the New York and San Francisco sections of the park to reach The Wizarding World right away. Each area of Universal Studios is arranged to appear as a real city. Walking by the “ocean” in San Francisco with seagulls over my head, I nearly forgot that I was in Florida. I was already grinning madly as we entered the park, but I became truly giddy upon seeing London. There, in the middle of Florida, are King’s Cross Station, Big Ben, several small bookshops, and a row of apartments on Grimmauld Place. There’s the triple-decker Knight Bus, and Stan Shunpike leaning against its purple exterior chatting idly with Ernie, the driver. And a stereotypical London phone booth, which I later slipped inside to dial 62442, the code to enter the Ministry of Magic, though to my disappointment no cool female voice spoke into the air, asking my name and business.

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But the true magic lay behind a brick wall passageway discreetly hidden in Muggle London. I stepped hastily through and saw to my pure joy and astonishment a very nearly perfect replica of Diagon Alley. I stood there for several moments with my jaw hanging open, filled with amazement, hardly able to breath for happiness, admiring Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes on my right, Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor on my left, and straight ahead, Gringotts bank, topped by a blind albino dragon which breathed fire every ten minutes. After recovering myself, I set off down the street taking it all in. It was a bit crowded, by not overly, being a Friday when most visitors with annual passes were busy with school and work. The cobbled road was wet, though it hadn’t rained in a week, because it was London, and in London it’s always just rained.

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I gaped at Ollivander’s wand shop (since 382 B.C.), grinned at Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, and continually reminded myself to breathe. In Horizont Alley, I watched Celestina Warbeck perform several songs I knew (A Cauldron Full of Hot Strong Love, You Charmed the Heart Right out of Me), and several I didn’t (the Quidditch anthem, for example). I bought a wand from Ollivander’s, because there are interactive sites throughout Universal’s Wizarding World which allow you to “perform magic” if you have the proper wand, and that was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

I also pretended that it was me causing the dragon to breath fire, and every time it happened I held up my wand with a look of intense concentration and cried aloud “incendio!” It was fantastic to explore Diagon Alley and imagine myself in the world of Harry Potter (after Voldemort’s time, of course).

Our Curriculum (Part Two)

Last week I wrote about four components of our school curriculum, namely math, Latin, geography, and art. If you didn’t get to see that article, you can view it here. Now I’m back to expound on our other subjects: history, writing, and botany. Let’s get started.

History
Our history curriculum is one that Mom has pieced together herself. We started by reading a couple pages of Herodotus together each day, with one person reading a section aloud. Now, however, Gordon and I read assigned passages ourselves, underlining anything we find interesting or important (I use a multitude of colored pencils to keep my notes organized), and filling out the answers to questions Mom writes out for us. We read related sections of the Bible, as well; for example, we accompanied our reading about Cyrus in Herodotus with the prophecies concerning him in Isaiah.

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Writing
For writing we work through the Susan Wise Bower’s Writing With Skill book. Each lesson has a reading assignment and then either review or something new. Say you’re doing some review on outlining: you would write a simple outline of whatever it was that you read. It’s a good program which, though it starts very easily, gets gradually more challenging over time.

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Botany
Finally, botany. Our method of study in this branch of science has changed throughout time, so I’ll start with how we started.

Twice a week we would draw a new plant family and list its characteristics, practicing until we knew the traits of the eight most common families by heart. We would go out somewhere and draw what we saw, learning how to tell what it was and listing its properties. We read passages on the subject and submitted to quizzes.

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Eventually, though, we arrived in Orlando, Florida; the number one spot for full-time RVers over the winter. In fact, we currently have nine or ten families of our friends staying in the area. So naturally, Mom organized a class to teach botany to any interested teenagers while we’re here. It occurs once a week, on Thursdays specifically, and on the most crowded day there were over twenty kids attending.

 

We draw a plant in botany – perhaps corn or a carrot – and while we work on our art we learn more about the plant that we’re drawing. We write down scientific phrases and their meanings, and answer questions.

Everybody has fun. In one lesson we made a dichotomous key – a tool used by botanists to identify plants. Except for ours helped us to identify some friends of ours with a very large family; it was great, because everybody in the class was familiar with these friends, and helped to come up with criteria to decipher one from the others. Afterwards, we settled down to create our own dichotomous keys. Mom had intended to have us make a chart for roses, but upon our begging she proved lenient and allowed us to come up with our own themes. I focused my key around the Weasley family from Harry Potter, as I’m a total nerd.

It turned out to be quite entertaining, and when I got home I began work on a giant dichotomous key concerning all fifty states. I finished the next day, after some confusion and deliberation, and lots of learning.

 

I do hope you enjoyed discovering our curriculum, and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask. It has been my ambition to be helpful in your search for just the right course of study, and hopefully I have achieved my goal.

Our Curriculum (Part One)

A while back I wrote a post on what (and how) we study, but we’ve since updated our curriculum in many ways, so I thought I’d write up an update on our studies for those of you who don’t know. I’d like to talk in depth about each lesson we do, so I’m splitting this post up into two so it doesn’t get too long.

We don’t use any one program, though there are lots of those to choose from. Instead, Mom has pieced together a careful curriculum that fits our needs best. We study math, geography, art, Latin, writing, history, and botany, and use a different format for each subject, allowing us to get what we need out of the lessons. So let’s start going over those subjects.

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Math. For math we use an internet program called Khan Academy. It’s a fairly simple site, but quite well-organized and useful. Not only does Khan Academy offer math for grades K-8, algebra, calculus, trigonometry, geometry, and statistics, you can also study science, computer programming, history, grammar, music, economics, and test prep. But let’s get back to math.

The format is arranged in such a way that you work on one skill until you have gotten five problems correct in a row. Then you move on to the next skill, and so on. Every so often you receive a “Mastery Challenge,” testing you on the skills you’ve worked on. Your prowess at a skill is rated by level, so one type of problem could be on any one of five levels. They are: “not practiced” (meaning you haven’t begun to work on it), “practiced” (you’ve gotten five in a row right), “level one” (you’ve gotten that sort of problem right in a Mastery Challenge twice), “level two” (you’ve gotten that sort of problem right in a Mastery Challenge four times), and “mastered” (you can complete that skill correctly every time). Even when a skill is mastered, it’s sometimes brought back in a Mastery Challenge to make sure you remember how to do it.

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The only trouble with Khan is a sometimes-exasperating teaching method. If you can’t get a problem right, you can either watch a video explaining the general formula, or get hints that tell you step-by-step how to complete the particular problem you’re stuck on. But the exasperation comes with the videos: they’re always teaching you how to do the simpler version of the problem you’re doing, and really aren’t any help at all. I was ready to quit Khan Academy and use something else (maybe Teaching Textbooks), but then I discovered that what I thought was an aggravating mistake was actually a popular teaching method used by the most elite schools. The general idea is that you have to figure it out yourself. You have to try your absolute best at working out the problem, and if you still can’t get it then you open up the hints and go through them slowly and carefully, understanding where you messed up and learning the techniques. The knowledge that the aim of this method is to develop a problem-solving ability gives me the patience to work through what seemed at first like useless difficulties.

 

Geography & Art. American geography is a subject that would be hard to avoid, given our lifestyle, but world geography is where a curriculum comes in handy. We use Ellen Johnston McHenry’s Mapping the World with Art, a fun program that teaches you how to draw different countries (Greece, Italy, Spain), as well as famous bodies of water (the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Sea of Galilee), with an end goal of drawing the whole world from memory. The program is designed to allow even the worst artists (er, me) to draw things that look how they’re supposed to. The instructions are mostly quite simple, though I’ll admit drawing Greece made me rather want to stab somebody (preferably Ms. Ellen McHenry, but anyone would do).

 

When we do this lesson, Mom usually draws up each step on our dry-erase board, so that we can see it well. Gordon and I use Palomino Blackwing art pencils, and incredibly nice Micron pens designed not to smear, to trace over our work once we’ve finished.

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Latin. We’ve studied Latin for six years, I believe, and the whole time we’ve used Memoria Press. This curriculum has lesson plans for some other subjects as well, but we’ve never used those.
Our Latin studies are fairly straightforward. We learn new vocabulary words, recite conjugations and declensions, groan over ever-growing lists of bazaar grammar rules, learn about exceptions to rules we thought were constant, study word order, translate sentences, scour the textbooks for pronunciations, and call the Memoria Press people to ask what on earth they mean; in short, Latin’s the hardest subject we study.

But that doesn’t stop us from pressing on, and by now I have a pretty good understanding of the language; I know hundreds of Latin words, and I can decline the nouns and conjugate the verbs, and put all the parts of a sentence into their proper orders, with personal pronouns and tenses and adjectives that match the noun which they modify in “person, number, and case, but not declension.” And yet, I still couldn’t talk to you only in Latin. So I’ll keep studying.


Don’t forget to come back next Monday to learn how we learn writing, history, and botany!

Floridian Alpacas

Florida might not seem like the right place to have an alpaca farm; it’s hot, humid, and full of bugs, whereas alpacas are cold-weather animals from thin-aired mountaintops, without long tails to flick away pesky insects. Florida alpacas usually have lice burrowing in their thick fur, because the winters aren’t cold enough to kill the mites off.

So why would anyone have an alpaca farm in such as seemingly unsuitable climate? It’s actually not that uncommon, and for a simple reason: people like living where it’s warm. Sure, it takes more work to keep one’s herd happy and healthy, but it’s certainly do-able. There are sprays and ointments for repelling and killing insects, and the particular alpaca breeder we visited kept fans and water running in the summer and on hotter “winter” days (typically about 80 degrees). The alpacas get used to their climate fairly well, too, and after a while they need a coat of shaggy fur to keep warm in the “chilly” December nights we’re experiencing here now (again, it’s currently 75, with 89% humidity). So maybe it’s not so crazy to keep the animals after all… especially considering the heavenly fuzziness of an alpaca’s fleece.

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Photo creds: the Mace family, at TheLightRoad.us

We headed over to LunaSea Alpaca Farm a few days ago, accompanied by many of the RVing families currently staying in Orlando. After examining the store and hugging alpaca-fleece teddy bears again and again (you can’t even imagine how wonderful they felt), we split into two groups; us older kids in one, and younger kids in the other. My group headed off to a shelter where the alpacas and one llama lived and hid from the sun, and started to admire the interesting creatures as King, the breeder of these alpacas, told us about them.

You might not know the difference between a llama and an alpaca, but it’s really rather simple, and it won’t take me long to tell. A llama is far larger than an alpaca, for one thing, and also braver. They act as “guard dogs,” which is why they’re almost always kept on alpaca farms: to protect their timid cousins. A llama would attack a coyote if it roamed into its territory, and though Rose, the llama who lives at LunaSea, has never had to do anything quite so drastic as that, she did once find a ten-foot alligator. 

 

We fed some of the young alpacas, and I played with my special favorite, an adorable brown suri named Topaz. Of course, I haven’t yet said anything about the different kinds of alpacas. They vary only in their fleece type, suris having dreadlocks without being matted, while huacayas are covered in a fluffier, airier stuff. It’s true that a huacaya is softer than a suri, but I prefer the latter for the cosmetic aspect.

After visiting the babies, we went off to the pen which contained Midas, a five-time Judges’ Choice champion. He was a brown suri, and wouldn’t let anyone touch or feed him; the adult males are a lot less trusting than the babies and females. After hanging around with Midas and some others, we headed home. I was exhausted, but it had been a great experience, and I’d learned a lot.

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Header image: Midas, the prize-winner. Photo credit: the Mace family.

Julia Belle’s Southern Restaurant

It’s getting cold all around the country, and my long pants had come out of retirement; that meant it was time to go south. From Fuquay (near Raleigh, North Carolina), where we were visiting friends, we headed to South Carolina, in order to see an aunt of mine who has a restaurant there (specifically, in Florence). It’s called Julia Belle’s, and is widely considered more than fantastic; even one of Guy Fieri’s friends was in raptures with my Aunt Fran’s macaroni and cheese.

The restaurant is in a large red barn, which is divided into many sections; it used to be used for animals, and so the rooms are small and slightly awkward. Despite this, Julia Belle’s  manages a homey, comfortable feeling, with many small dining rooms. The first room on one side of the building is the kitchen and main sitting area, and directly opposite is the bakery, where buns, pie, and things of that sort are made, with another space for eating. It’s a beautiful but difficult old building, and though many restaurants have attempted to make it work over time, it’s only Julia Belle’s that has managed to pull it off.

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And now onto the food. I’m really not the best person for the job, being gluten-free (and also not a fan of eating in general), but I’m the only critic available at the moment, so I’ll have to do. Truthfully, the options for someone like me were fairly limited, but I settled on mashed potatoes, green beans, and a burger without a bun. Gordon, who could elaborate on his food for hours, got the chicken and waffles, which came topped with cinnamon-covered peaches. Mom got the same thing, but then she started to wish she hadn’t; what she’d really wanted had been the shrimp-and-chilli sandwich that Dad had gotten. But the moment she took the first bite of her chicken and waffles, her expression was beyond words. I can’t tell you what it looked like, but I can tell you that it conveyed a simple but clear message: wow.

Dad loved his sandwich as well, and by the time we were stuffed to the gills with wholesome food, we were also convinced that dessert could only be better. So Mom and Dad got a piece of White Russian Pecan Pie, Gordon got a small “fried pie” that looked like a strudel. Meanwhile, I asked what they had gluten-free. My options? Zip. Having nothing for me on the menu didn’t hold the kind folks at Julia Belle’s back, however. Before long, I had some banana pudding filling in a small bowl in front of me, and boy was it good. There was a strong yogurt base, with sweet, banana-y flavor throughout, and I found myself eating slowly to savor the taste.

The bakery.
The bakery.

Having eaten our fill, and hugged Aunt Fran goodbye, we waddled out of the restaurant to the motorhome. Dad got into his van, Gordon, Mom, and I piled into our house, and off we went. That day we would cross South Carolina, Georgia, and get a decent way into Florida. Then we would arrive at TTO (Thousand Trails RV Park, Orlando) and meet up with friends. We’ll all be here until early February, when the families will start to disperse. And that’s when Turtletells will leave, headed out West once more.

The Ark Encounter

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. That’s already an incredible achievement, and you can read about that post here, though I can’t promise it will be the best quality. I was only nine at the time and had minimal writing skill. Anyhow, there’s another thing going on on Ken Ham’s plot of Kentucky land now. For over six years the boat has been worked on, but it’s nearly finished now, and we went to visit. Who wouldn’t?

We had brought along great friends of ours, Cali and Marcus Perry, of the blog Unpredictable Perrys and now Unpredictable Perrys Continued. They had already been to the ark, and acted as fantastic tour guides on our visit.

The parking lot was far away from the actual ark, but even from there it was clearly visible; an indescribably large shape resting on the horizon, looking vaguely like a boat, but more reminiscent of a large rectangular box. It certainly didn’t look anything like those cartoon arks you see in kids’ books.

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When I stepped inside the ark, the first display was of animal quarters. Cages for larger animals lined walls, and small clay jars covered with a rough cloth would have housed amphibians. There were clay water jugs and sacks of food lining the walls, and some of the cages had highly realistic animal sculptures in them. Many of the creatures were odd, extinct beasts that we only know about from fossils, and cages were accompanied by plaques answering questions related to the animals. The giraffe family was represented, so one plaque guessed, by a short-necked variety to save space, and the dinosaurs were probably brought along as eggs or juveniles.

There was a room full of Bibles in other, even ancient, languages, some of them thousands of years old!
There was a room full of Bibles in other, even ancient, languages, some of them hundreds of years old!

After exploring this first area, we moved on to the mini-museums on the next floor. Of these, my favorite was one describing the flaws of and generally calling out children’s book authors and illustrators who taught, even jokingly, about an unrealistic and tiny boat with all the animals squeezed in tight. Those making this exhibit were even so bold as to display tons of kids’ books that had misrepresented the ark. It was a fun room.

The "Fairy Tale Ark" room.
The “Fairy Tale Ark” room, as seen from a stairway leading to the floor above.

On the third floor we reached what was possibly my favorite area in the whole ark: the living quarters. Contrary to what you might think, it was absolutely fantastic. In the kitchen, vegetables hung from the ceiling and a tiny garden grew on a shelf.  Beautiful handmade panels lined the walls, and the design was simple yet elegant.

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The bedrooms, however, were the best part. Each room had a large, luxurious bed in the wall like a window seat, and pretty woven door to closets. One room had a hammock in the middle, another a large desk, and a third a small table. The rooms were beautifully and tastefully decorated, while being simple and practical. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that with my room, even though I’ve known it was impossible from the moment I thought of it.

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It was a really fantastic day in a really fantastic museum, and I’d love to go back. If you haven’t been there yet, just know this: you’ve got to go.

Kentucky Meetup and Unit Study

We spent the month of October in Kentucky with friends this year. Last week Gordon wrote about Halloween and our cave excursions, but what he didn’t mention was the Kentucky Unit Study.

It was the first activity, and everyone met up in the game room that morning. Mr. Burrell explained the plan: we would be learning about a different aspect of Kentucky with each segment, and then working with a randomly chosen partner to create a Kentucky Fact trifold board. At the end of two days’ hard work, impartial judges would pick a winner, providing constructive criticism, and then we would tour Diamond Caverns the next day.

And so it began. I was paired with my friend Emma, and we set to work creating a layout for our board. That morning the lesson had been based around Kentucky state symbols and general facts, so we incorporated those new findings into our plan. Emma wrote “Kentucky” in a large, neat cursive at the top of the page, and traced it with green colored pencil topped with blue, providing a bluegrass look. I looked over the symbols list that Mr. Burrell had printed out, marking particularly interesting items to add, and then we started drawing them. I did a cartoonish cow labeled “Kentucky state drink: milk!,” and Emma drew a big, beautiful cardinal. After about an hour and a half, we had completed the middle of our poster board, detailing many obscure facts about the Bluegrass State. A tidy Appalachian Dulcimer sat near the top, and a baseball bat marked “Louisville Slugger” leaned against the K that headed our page. One of my favorite parts of the trifold board’s midsection was Emma’s beautiful disco ball drawing, which was adorned with green and blue lights coming out at all angles. Next to the art was a square of writing. “Did you know,” it said, “that 90% of America’s disco ball supply is made in Louisville, Kentucky?”

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The board that Emma and I designed and created.

The class let out for a two hour lunch break, and we all went to our respective homes to eat. After lunch we kids played several enthusiastic games of dodge ball in the field, and then we headed back inside the building to continue our work. That afternoon the topic of study was famous Kentuckians, and I had had a brainwave. Instead of attempting to actually draw people, we drew out some item that was directly related to what they were famous for. Johnny Depp’s was a pirate hat, Muhammad Ali’s a pair of boxing gloves, Loretta Lynn’s a microphone, etc. Then the drawings were accompanied by a short paragraph of their life, or a compilation of facts. We used one of the smaller side pieces for that, and it turned out very neat and organized.

 

The next morning, we learned about the Appalachian lifestyle and history, and used half of the remaining side piece to write about what we’d found out, accompanied by pictures. I wrote a small thing on the Hatfields and McCoys, famous Appalachian rivals, and asked Mr. Burrell to print out a related picture to cover a torn spot on the poster board. Emma explained about homelessness and hunger in Appalachian communities, accompanied by a chart on poverty rates in Kentucky. After our lunch break, we all returned to finish our projects. We had decided to use our last remaining space (half of a side piece) for geography. I made a small cartoon cave, and Emma drew a waterway streaming across the page. We then each wrote small explanations of our drawings. I tried to make mine a readable size, but that’s a big problem for me; in order for my handwriting to look nice, it has to be tiny, and the bigger it is the messier it looks. There was still some space left, so I dedicated the bottom of the page to the Kentucky Bend, an incredibly unique geographical phenomenon, and the only one of its kind. It’s a small area of land that is completely separated from Kentucky, and is the only piece of one state that is entirely surrounded by other states. In a great earthquake, it was moved, and now parts of Tennessee and Missouri stand between it and its main state. After we had finished work, we all hung around the room for a while longer, helping to clean up. The judging would take place pretty soon.

Gordon's board.
Gordon’s board, which he created with his team mates Camden and Bennett.

It wasn’t too long until Mr. Burrell was showing in our honorary judges; they were campers at the park, but we didn’t know them. Perhaps some were out for a weekend with their grandkids. Anyway, they walked around the room for a while, conversing in whispers and looking at the entries. I cringed as I watched one lady pick up the board that Emma and I had made. She was trying to read what I’d written about the caves, I knew it, and that was far too small. Perhaps she would stop bothering, and walk away without finding that I knew my stuff. After ages of wandering from board to board, one kind-faced woman came to the front of the group. Mr. Burrell signaled for attention, and then she spoke. She told us how we had all done very well, and that she had only found one wrong article of information on any of the boards. My breath caught in my throat; I had stubbornly written on my piece about Jim Bowie that he hadn’t invented the Bowie Knife, as many believed. I knew that I was right, but these judges might believe differently. But much to my relief, the woman explained that one competitor had written that Mammoth Cave was a state park. It was truly a national park. She praised us for a moment longer, and then the judges left. Mr. Burrell stepped up to where they had stood, and started telling us about parts that had been loved and appreciated in each board. Apparently, my little Kentucky Bend had been much appreciated, and we had been the only ones to include it. But we still hadn’t heard who the winner was, and so we sat with baited breath, waiting to be told. Mr. Burrell used all of the typical drama, the drawing out and the dramatizing, just as I am doing here and now. But finally the verdict came out: Lucas Muller and Camden Walker had won. We all went over to admire their work, and Mr. Burrell told us that the thing that had really pushed it over was a large coal cart that Camden had drawn. The judges had apparently said that the coal industry was a large part of their culture, and they loved that this team had featured it so prominently. 

So congratulations to Lucas and Camden, winners of the official Kentucky Unit Study Trifold Board Competition. You earned it.

Across the Country in One Post

We did a lot as we traveled from the West to the East this time around. It would take months to catalog all of it, so I’m going to do my best to sum up our recent experiences with one post that’s rich in pictures, to make up for the last (rather devoid) one.

Before leaving Utah, we went out to the woods and Dad taught us how to make burn bowls (small wooden bowls made of Aspen wood, burned into shape with coals).

The Toy and Action Figure Museum in Oklahoma is a unique attraction in the middle of a small town just off the highway. It includes 1200 items in all, though they rotate and are not all on display at once. Even so, the number of toys there is incredible!

Next stop, Cadillac Ranch! You’re encouraged to spray-paint old Cadillacs in Amarillo, Texas, where the lineup shows the progression of the tail fin; you’ll notice we left our mark.

That’s Elvis Presley’s childhood home on the far left. And the hardware store where he got his first guitar. And there, on the right: that’s the very spot where eleven-year-old Elvis stood while his mother Gladys bought that guitar for his birthday. All in Tupelo, Mississippi.

We went to West Monroe, Louisiana, to see the Duck Commander warehouse. On the left is the famous sign featured in episodes of Duck Dynasty, and to the right is the loading dock where the crew hangs out.

While in Monroe, we enjoyed a tour of a friend’s old-fashioned mansion. It was truly incredible!

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In Alabama, we stopped at Grandma and Grandpa’s house to celebrate 48 states, and Grandma’s birthday! None of us look fantastic in this picture, I know, but it’s the only one I have.

Aaaand… we’ve reached Kentucky and the meetup! It kicked off with a Kentucky Unit Study, and we were sorted into groups of twos and threes to make Kentucky fact tri-fold boards.

I get to practice archery at Rockcastle Shooting Center, just three miles away! On the right, about half of our large groups hangs out.

 

Oklahoma in a Nutshell

Oklahoma doesn’t have the best reputation; it’s renowned for being frigid in the winter and sweltering hot in the summer, and when the temperature isn’t going to kill you the tornadoes might. All the same, it was a gaping white hole on our sticker map of visited states, and we had to fill it while we had the chance on our way to the Nomadic Homeschoolers Halloween Meetup in Kentucky.


After a few days in Texas (which is fairly nice, very interesting, remarkably smelly, and really quite windy), we drove on to Oklahoma, complete with unsettlingly flat lands and an enormous sun rising just ahead. There was nothing particular to interest me on the drive to Oklahoma City, so I settled down with a book and tried not to get car sick until we arrived. Finally we rolled into the outskirts of the state’s capital, and parked outside the Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.


Gordon and I looked at a few galleries, then split off to check out the rodeo segment. On the way there we were sidetracked by a room full of cowboy history and techniques, and entertained ourselves by reading plaques rich in detail and examining old-fashioned barbed wire and branding irons. After we had discovered all that there was to find there, we moved on to the film area. There was a small theatre were Gordon and I watched a fascinating movie about the history of westerns, and a collection of John-Wayne-related items, including several guns of his, mostly gifts. We tried a “guess the TV show” game in which you had to pick out the show that matched a playing theme song, and also attempted to name the horses of famous movie cowboys. I did pitifully.


We finally made our way to several rooms filled with information about the rodeo business, both in the early days and now. There were videos of different events, accompanied by details. For example, you could watch bits of a calf roping competition, and every so often there would be a little box on the screen saying “The damages suffered in this event make up 8% of all rodeo-induced injuries,” or “Rope around the calf’s ankles must hold for six seconds to be considered ‘tied.’” Finally, Gordon got bored of all this and, though I was still interested, he dragged me off to the next place.
Next we examined Indian clothing, including beaded shoes and belts, roughly woven dresses, animal skin outfits, and feathered headdresses. Traditional cowboy wear was in the next room, so we looked at that, too. In an art gallery off the main hall we met up with Mom, who wanted to see the rodeo stuff we had just been looking at; we led her away, starting to shiver in the highly air-conditioned building.


The last attraction was outside: a horse graveyard. Several famous bucking broncos whom Gordon and I had read about inside were buried underneath the path, with tombstones bearing inscriptions about their lives. Five Minutes ‘Till Midnight was there, along side Midnight and Tornado, all famous broncos in their days. Each of these horses had strived to never let a man stay on them for eight seconds, and Tornado was only ever beaten once, just before his retirement. It was a beautiful courtyard garden, with streams and large, exotic flowers around every bend. After we had finished there, Mom dropped into the gift shop to find a book, Dad looked into one last gallery, and Gordon and I read outside in the shade, before setting off again on our trip to Kentucky. 

P.S. Sorry there are no pictures. I couldn’t take any, as museums usually don’t allow it.