Friday, November 4, 2011

Caligula's Plunder

Now that I'm running consistantly, I like to shake things up terrain-wise and so I try to do one morning per week on the beach. Some days the tide makes it impossible, and other days I get, well, distracted.

This morning as I filled the pocket of my sweatshirt with Neptune's dropped change, two things occured to me. First, that each visit seemed to have a different "daily special" and second that I must look like Caligula dumping my treasure onto the kitchen counter after coming home.

(Caligula was a bat-squeeze crazy Roman emperor who, legend has it, marched his army to the North Sea to do battle with the sea god Neptune. His men watched him slash his sword at the waves for hours before returning to them triumphant and declaring victory. Then he ordered them to collect the spoils, and he returned to Rome and dumped chests full of shells and sand before the Senate.)

As to the first thought, the following are examples of how the things we find tend to come in batches.

Most of the time we find tons of these long, fingernail looking things and pretty common things with a few nice specimins of others:

Then one day there will be tons of sand dollars:

Then one day there were probably a hundred horsehoe crabs (which I left, I think the night's full moon may have brought them close to shore, or maybe it was molting season) and dozens of pink sea urchins. I had to stop running so as to better carry all I found. Even after dumping a load in the car, I continued to find them by the bucketload, so I gave a bunch to my neighbor and people I saw on the beach and even mailed some to friends (I had dragged them to the beach a week before, promising beautiful things and it was a crap day for shells). So what's below isn't even 1/5th of what I actually collected. It was also a banner day for the long, tightly coiled olive shells and the near-circular spirals and bright pink polyps:

Later that particular day I took the kids and we collected even more spirals of varying shapes and sizes and the skull of some kind of fish and a piece of turtle shell. (Last year with some friends we found a dolphin scapular bone!)

Then check these big horse conchs we found- they must have weighed 10lbs each and would squirt water at us in defense:

Today was apparently scallop day, with a few olive shells and welks:

There's nothing like getting ready to move that makes you appreciate what you've had in your back yard.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Travel Tuesday: National Model Aviation Museum

Believe it or not, but nestled in central Indiana, just an hour north of Indianapolis, is the National Headquarters for Model Aviation and its adjacent Museum. It's on most maps and located on the outskirts of Muncie, and it's a hidden jewel of the area.

It's not huge, but it's a great way to kill an afternoon or a nice detour if you are traveling across the state.

The history of flight and model aircraft goes back much further than you might expect. See that butterfly thing in the lower middle? That's a re-creation of a 2000+ year old Chinese child's toy. An elastic-y leather strap was attached to the upper antennae of the paper butterfly and twisted tight. When you let go, it would untwist and helicopter off on a short flight.

Model aviation used to be a bigger deal before TV. If only these shops could replace a few "Game Stops" our kids would be better for it, I think.

As you can see, there's a lot of variety in style and size. If it ever flew for real (and sometimes if it didn't), someone made a model of it.

Here the kids could try their hands at controlling model aircraft. It's a lot harder than it looks.

After the museum, we went out onto the runways where a couple small groups were flying. We weren't there for a huge flying week, but as I hate crowds this suited me just fine. There were enough people around to justify the restroom facilities and a guy selling italian sausage out of a trailer. We plopped down at an empty table under a tent and ate a bag lunch. No one seemed to mind.

Above are some of the WWI models from the group that was flying.

We watched a guy flying a model Thunderbird (F-16) through an entire show's worth of maneuvers. It even had a real jet engine. We also saw a plane lose parts and its owners hop in a truck to go hunting through the nearby cornfields for the pieces (they found them). Before leaving, the kids went off to the side and flew the super cheap gliders they bought in the gift shop.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Travel Tuesday: Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, WV

After lunch at Wolf Creek Indian Village, we again pointed north, and our next big stop was the town of Beckley in West Virginia. Beckley was and still is a coal mining town, and this particular mine is no longer worth the effort, especially considering the richer veins in the region, so it's been turned into a tourist attraction known on most maps as the Exhibition Coal Mine.

Not only is there this nice museum packed with history, there's a miniature town behind it which you can visit within the price of admission and the coal mine tour. Admission was one of the pricier things we did this summer at $20 for me and $12 for kids under 12, but I got a military discount, so that helped. The kids weren't very interested in the town part and breezed through faster than I could get my camera out. They were mostly excited about going on the mine tour, where they got to ride on modified rail cars.

Like most subterranean caves, the temperature is 58 degrees, and there's not much moving around by the tourists to create one's own heat, so dress warmly.

Our guide was a former miner and overflowed with fascinating stories from his own experience. Despite having diminished lung capacity and bad knees, he felt he'd had a good life and was quite upbeat. One lady in our group kept badgering him that he should sue the big coal company for his "disabilities," but he seemed mostly bewildered because he felt everyone at his age (68) was falling apart, it was just how that varied.

Pictures are kind of sparse because it's hard to take photos in a mostly pitch-black cave. Some of the interesting facts we learned were that the mining companies tried to introduce new and helpful equipment all through the early part of the century, but most of it broke down quickly and ended up becoming landmarks in the twisting tunnels. After trying the new machines, miners often returned to the old faithful method of extraction- crawling in a 24" high tunnel with a candle and a small pick-axe and dragging a sled on their leg. The vein in this mine was only about 18" thick, so anything much higher was a big waste of time and energy.

Also, coal mining was seasonal. They could only go in when the air was good, and on moist spring days, ventilation was sluggish. And at any time of year if the air got bad, it usually took at least 2 days to air out enough to go back in. Canaries were not for gas detection as most people think these days. All birds are sensitive to oxygen levels and they will be affected before people, and canaries were used because their near-constant singing was easier to notice if it suddenly stopped. If the canary went silent, the miners had about 20 minutes to evacuate before the low oxygen would start claiming human casualties.

Above is an example of what is known as a "kettle bottom," which claimed the majority of lives lost in coal mines, and still do today. These widow-makers are petrified tree stumps that would slip without warning from the ceiling. They were nearly impossible to detect until they slammed down on an unsuspecting miner's head or legs.

Among the attractions nearby, there is also a tiny children's museum. Admission is included with the coal mine, or you can go in separately. As children's museums go, it's pretty sad, but we occupied 30 minutes or so waiting for our turn to go in the mine.

At the gift shop we got some yummy fudge (because when I think of a coal mine, I instantly think of fudge as well), and something I found intriguing merely by it's title: Pepper Jelly. And yes, it is yummy, especially mixed with cream cheese and put on crackers. For a buck we also got a tiny glass bottle of coal.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Travel Tuesday on Monday: Wolf Creek Indian Village, VA

I have been remiss in my duties reporting on all the places we visited this summer, so I'm going do several this week. Enjoy the smorgasbord.

Heading up I-77 out of Charlotte NC, we stopped for the night just inside Virginia, and bright and early we headed north once more and our first stop was Wolf Creek Indian Village. It's not far off the highway, but the dense trees make it easy to miss the turn-off. Then you follow a side road under a canopy of trees to a shaded parking lot and picnic area and this unassuming museum and gift shop.

The admissions people told us the place is mostly frequented by school field trips, and it being summer, the staffing was relatively low, but we were more than welcome. Hours are 10-5 Monday - Saturday, but as most of the exhibits are outdoors, it can close for inclement weather. Most of the springtime it is closed for restoration and also because it is so close to a stream which often overflows as the snows melt. The walk to the village itself was nearly 1/4 mile and mostly downhill. Not terribly strenuous, but definitely not handicap accessible.

There was only one lady staffing the village at the time we were there, but she was very accommodating and patient with the little ones. She took us from structure to structure and explained the function each had within village life, and each also had a hands-on activity. First she showed the kids how to make clay beads. After everyone had created one, they were given a choice of beads previous groups had made and she had baked in the small kiln. The ones my kids made would be fired and given to visitors who came after. She strung them up on long dried grass necklaces, too.

Next came clay stained "tattoos" in traditional tribal symbols.

The central meeting house could accommodate the whole village of 100-150, but I imagine it was standing room only, and probably the kids were left out.

One structure was dedicated to the way they made household items like baskets and bowls. Here the kids helped weave a basket and got braided grass bracelets.

Nicholas started to get a little restless with all the items and descriptions, and as I apologized for him, our guide brushed my concerns aside and invited him outside. Here she showed how they were making a stone bowl for cooking. The process basically is pounding a big rock with a little rock, and Nicholas was in his element while she told us about how they used some native plants. In particular, the grasses they let grow tall in the center of the village could be burned when the mosquitoes got bad and the citronella-like scent would drive them away. Even more importantly, she showed us the power of the common plantain weed to relieve insect bites. If you tear off some of the leaves and rub the raw, moist edges on a bug bite, it neutralizes the reaction immensely. For the rest of our vacation, this came in so handy. And it grows almost everywhere north of the sandy soils of Florida. Try it sometime!

Our last stop (besides the small river outside the village) was a hands-on display of cutting tools. The kids learned how to drill holes in wooden poles with arrowheads used like drills, and how to saw with the jawbone of a deer (the bones they use here come from local roadkill). We also learned how they made their weapons and some other specialty tools.

And that was pretty much it. We saw everything in a little over an hour and we all had a blast!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Travel Tuesday: Jacksonville Fire Museum

We just got back from another road trip, but as I'm trying to pull the house back together, I'll just do a small local attraction today. The pictures are kind of blurry since I forgot my regular camera and the cell phone kind of sucks.

If you live in Jacksonville and are running out of things to do with your kids this summer and are saving your cash for school supplies, try the Jacksonville Fire Museum, located down between the river and the football stadium. I recommend parking under the overpass to keep your car in the shade- there's not really any other place to park nearer anyway. Admission is free.

The place is pretty dinky, but it has enough to keep kids entertained for a while, depending on the age. Group tours are available if you schedule ahead, and we actually half-tagged along with a seniors group who was there. Otherwise we were the only visitors, and the guy on duty was available to answer any questions we had.

Some of the most entertaining parts were obviously not actual exhibits.

On display are a variety of artifacts and photos from Jacksonville's great fire in the early 20th century, equipment through the years, fire fighter children's toys, and several restored engines. If you are not with a large group of children, you can climb on the 1902 crank-start engine and ring the bell. It's still a working engine (not in service, obviously), so they don't like tons of kids climbing on it with a small adult-to-child ratio. Within seconds my kids were flying down the road to put out a fire at the Jedi Temple, from the sounds of it.

Other carts were pulled by hand or horses. This particular engine ran on coal. Not for climbing, but just gorgeous.

The guide had some great stories about the days of horses. They were big, heavy-duty draft horses with great endurance and high intelligence. It was said after a year on the job, most of the horses knew which city block to go to based on the combination of bells the signal had. They would even unlatch their pen, open the main doors, and back-up against the wagons ready to be hitched up when the alarm sounded. One retired horse was sold to a local milkman, and many days his horse and delivery cart would go missing, but both were found every time at the scene of a fire, the horse standing patiently and waiting for his wagon to be used.

The upstairs section is undergoing repairs, so only the main floor open. Outside is a memorial to firefighters who gave their lives in the service of others over the past 100+ years.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Travel Tuesday: Latta Plantation

It was a pretty brief visit as we arrived near closing time, but it was worth the stop to see Latta Plantation on the northwest side of Charlotte, NC. They have a big Civil War re-enactment August 13-14th, and a Revolutionary War re-enactment September 3-4th, so if you going to be in the area, you should check it out. As I write this, they are running a Civil War camp experience for kids age 8-12, and other various period camps go through this month. Obviously it's too late now, but if this sounds interesting to you, there's always next year.

We had barely missed the last tour of the house, but there were several other things to see. The farm has a variety of animals, but don't touch them unless there's an employee helping.
I grew up near farms so I take it for granted and the kids are fascinated.

This row of structures stood out to us compared to other plantations we've seen. They are for drying tobacco, the slaughterhouse, and the well house.

On a corner sat a couple cabins that dated back before the Revolution- they had been transplanted from places in town. A small museum provided smaller artifacts and a place to sit in the a/c.

Unfortunately, there was a whole lot of nothing going on at that time on that day, but the website makes it look like a happening and very educational place. I wish we lived closer!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Travel Tuesday: Birthplace of James K. Polk

Back on the road for SummerTrip '11 and our next stop was on the south side of Charlotte, NC. Roadsigns helpfully guided us there, but the entrance isn't exactly huge so we drove past it and had to turn around.

This small plot is part of the original farm the parents of James K. Polk owned early in their marriage. A small museum shows some of what like was like at the time and has a few pieces of family furniture. Admission is free.

This amused and scared me at the same time. Those scissors are for umbilical cord cutting, the hook thing is for breaking a laboring woman's water, and the salad spoon things are forceps. Forceps are hardly used anymore, but they apparently haven't changed (Patrick was born with their assistance, so I can verify that). The little bubble thing is a 200+ year old glass breast pump.

Some of the more interesting articles were about Andrew Jackson (whom he admired) and Henry Clay (whom he defeated). James Polk is usually thought of as one of the no-name presidents, but historians have referred to him as the "least known consequential president" and at a time when many rested on their political laurels once they held the highest office of the land, he took the job very seriously and worked into the wee hours of the morning almost every night of his term. His major achievements include leading the nation into and out of the Mexican-American War and winning a staring contest with Britain over Oregon. He also was president when the U.S. Naval Academy was officially opened, though most of the work in creating it was done before he took office. He did not seek re-election and died of cholera 3 months after leaving the White House, likely worn out from the job.

Reconstructed homes on the property. They are only open to school groups and for special events. The land itself is less than 1/5th of the original homestead, it changed hands several times in the last 200 years and was divided over that time.

The family garden would have been fenced in to protect the vegetable from deer and other forest animals. The area also has some short and fairly gentle nature trails.