Category Archives: Fascinating Field Trips

A walk on the fun side…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Merge of Crystalline Deposits

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Last weekend, on our return trip from vacationing in Georgia, we had the opportunity to stop at Luray Caverns in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  I have never toured the caverns… They were absolutely spectacular!  So this week, instead of merging unlikely subjects in my photography, I could not resist sharing some of our pictures from the tour…

Stalactites & stalagmites finally merge to form a pillar as a result of crystallized deposits accumulating over hundreds of thousands of years.

Just to give you an idea of how amazing this cavern is, here is a brief synopsis on how these formations occur…  Very simply, the cave deposits are formed by small trickles of rain water that pick up diluted carbonic acid as it seeps through decaying vegetation in the soil, and into the rocky cavern below. This combined with the cave’s atmosphere, creates a formula for lime precipitation to build in rings that eventually form the long stalactites from the ceiling.  As the deposits then travel down to the floor of the cave, the same process occurs in reverse, where a stalagmite is built up  from the ground.  New deposits actively accumulate at the rate of one cubic inch in 120 years!!!  Over the course of thousands, even millions of years, these stalactites growing downward and stalagmites building upward merge to form a column or pillar, resulting in amazing natural stone formations.

These photographs do not adequately convey the majesty of this cavern… definitely a must-see for any traveler!!!

A draped translucent calcite form of “Saracen’s Tent” at Luray Caverns, Virginia.

This double column formation is one of the largest in the caverns, standing 47 feet tall in the 60 foot high chamber of “Giant’s Hall”.

“Dream Lake” is no more than 18 – 20 inches deep and covers an area more than 2000 square feet. With no movement of the water, its mirror-like quality reflects the stalactites dropping down from the ceiling of the cave.

The “Wishing Well” appears to have a depth of 3 – 4 feet, but is actually closer to 6 – 7 feet at its deepest point. Over $898,000 have been collected and donated to charities since 1954!!!

To find out more about how to be a part of the weekly photo challenge, go to:

 http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/weekly-photo-challenge-merge/

Weekly Photo Challenge: Growth!

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Earlier in the spring, I brought my children to a butterfly garden at Brookside Gardens.  It was surreal and so delightful to walk into a room with so many stunning colors fluttering around us!  This week’s photo challenge gives me the perfect opportunity to share pictures of the growth cycle for the Monarch butterfly!  …And their chrysalis is among the most incredible I have ever seen in nature!

  

A Purple-y Day at the Beach… the weekly photo challenge continues!

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Have you ever just needed to get your toes in the sand?…  

Thunderstorms in the forecast, sweltering heat advisories in effect… sounds like a day trip to the beach to me! 

Apparently, this was not as original a plan as I had anticipated because we landed in miles of traffic with other like-minded, coastally obsessive optimists.  

A little purple in the grape slushy!

Here, you can see that the kids were contributing to the hunt
for all things purple, as well!

Undeterred, we headed toward Ocean City, Maryland, then passed over to Assateague Island.  I had been there only once in my 20’s, but had never seen any of the wild ponies I had read and heard so much about.  So I could sense the excitement welling up inside me as we finally broke through the backups and began to see sand along the roadways.  Once we parked and unloaded, I felt weeks of tension easing out of my body with every soothing breeze and relaxing sound of waves breaking and rushing toward the shore…

I was able to capture a few purple shots for the weekly challenge with my Kodak Easy Share C813… hahaha!!!  Sorry, I couldn’t resist!  I love admiring the photographs taken by ‘real’ cameras, posted in photo blogs… I just don’t happen to own one yet, so my camera model disclosure serves as a sort of disclaimer.  Just to really give you a sense of my photographic limitations, I don’t even have a viewfinder in my camera!  On a really sunny day, when it is impossible to see anything projected on the 2-inch screen, capturing an image becomes more intuitive… much like using the Force.  Yes, it’s true… I am a photographic Jedi… now you know! 🙂  So these pictures should really knock your socks off!  

Fast forward a few hours… and I was feeling a bit saddened by the lack of ponies on the beach.  There was plenty of… er, let’s say… evidence that they had been there earlier in the day, but as far as I could strain my eyes, there wasn’t a hoof in sight.  So gathering all of our gear, and with swimsuits full of sand, we scrambled back to the van.  

My husband suggested that we drive further down the island toward the National Park with the hope that a few ponies might be snacking along the side of the road.  We drove, scouring waterways and groves of trees… Then suddenly, just as we rounded a bend, there they were!!!  I was ELATED!!!  You would think I had never seen a horse before in my life.  Well, in a sense this was a new experience — I had never seen a wild pony before!!  They were much larger than I had imagined.  I thought they would be more like miniature ponies – I have absolutely no idea why – and despite my husband’s elaboration of what I envisioned an Assateague pony to be… NO, I did not believe that they would be sparkly and gallop between rainbows in the sand!  Although, that would have made for some great pictures!  

…BACK to reality, though…  I don’t know what it is about coming into contact with an animal in its natural habitat, that is so exciting.  In our yard, we see deer, rabbits, a red fox here and again.  But it doesn’t matter how many times we see them, we always run to the window for another look.  That sense of admiration may change when I finally get my garden in the ground sometime next spring, but for the time being, we feel privileged to get a glimpse into their mysterious world.  That was how I felt with these amazing ponies…

The beautiful ponies of Assateague Island (Maryland).

My entire weekend felt complete!  …that is to say, until our bellies started rumbling… So we headed off to a local favorite called Waterman’s Seafood Company.  Being Marylanders, you just don’t go to the beach without gettin’ some crab!  I had two of my favorites… Cream of Crab soup and a Crab Cake!  They were DEE-lish!!!  

A cup of Cream of Crab soup at Waterman’s Seafood Company… YUM!

…and a FANTASTIC crab cake!

…then a lovely end to a perfect day!

Even a hint of purple in this glorious sunset on our ride home…

Festival Mayhem at ARTSCAPE

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     Take 173 exhibitors setting up for 6 days…

                   12 city blocks in Baltimore, Maryland…

                              free admission to 350,000 attendees for 3 days…

                                         and you have yourself a pARTy!!!

“Face Forward”
A 16-foot tall kinetic sculpture
created by artist, Christian Ristow.
[Click on this photo to learn more
about this amazing robotic artwork!]

Now, also keep in mind that 2 out of those 3 days poured buckets from the heavens, so the bulk of the attendance was probably counted on the day we decided to take our first look at this annual Artscape festival… That was yesterday, and I am still alive to tell you about it!  Where do I even begin???…

I have heard about this event over the years, but I am not much of a city gal, especially when I have to do the driving and the agonizing parking, so I just never got up the zeal to brave the crowds and check it out on my own. Enter in my new artsy-pal from my class last semester, Josie, who emailed me that she was thinking about going.  (By the way, you can link over to her fun blog site by clicking on her name.)  I thought it over… art, music, sparkly things, food, ART… I was in!!!  Hopped in the car, traffic wasn’t bad, free parking was everywhere… I was looking for the giant chicken foot to descend from the sky to wake me back into reality… But it was all good and soon after meeting up on the grounds, we were scoping out the tents.

This year the festival was situated on Mount Royal Ave., with free performances at The Lyric and by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.  Three sound stages scattered throughout the city featured musicians all weekend long like Brian McKnight, Clutch, Emma White, Easy Star All-Stars… just to name a few.

The Squonk Opera Roadshow entertaining the crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then there was the Squonk Opera Roadshow who brought their own custom built stage masterpiece to the streets!  I have to say, they were my favorite performers of the day.

Arts and craft exhibitors ranged from the stunningly beautiful to the shockingly bizarre.  On a trip I once took to San Francisco back in the 90’s, I thought I had seen it all… anyone who’s been there has to admit, there is some distinct zaniness going on in that town.  All I can say is that there must be some of the same juice floating in the water out this way, because we just had no idea what to expect at every turn!  I think we were pretty worn out after the 4th hour or so, but pressed on in sheer curiosity over what could possibly be around the next bend!  You gotta love the art-folk!  If you have never been to an art festival before, you may be in for some culture shock at Artscape, but you’ll be hooked on the mayhem and maybe even a little inspired!

 

Forty Years of Video Games

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Summertime blues and boredom have gotten me surfing the web for ideas on how in the world we can get out of this house and explore something new and exciting.  We live in this vibrant area – in one direction you have Washington, DC, then drive north and you run into Baltimore, Maryland!  I grew up in Virginia, and there are still places I haven’t seen in this metropolitan mecca.  So with a Saturday of rest under our belts, we decided to head to the museums in the city after church.  It was a late start, but it was a tad spontaneous — I mean, we did go home and change out of our ‘Sunday’s best’ after all — yet it still qualified as an adventure!

A classmate had mentioned that the Smithsonian Museum of American Art was showing “The Art of Video Games” exhibit through September.  It wasn’t a mind-numbing electronic device — no, no… it was a trip to the museum disguised as a video game!  This was perfect!  So the, “What? We have to go walk around in the heat to boring museums?” morphed into, “Cool!!!  Are we there yet?”  It was magical…  I was even a little excited about it myself.  One area of graphic art that I have been intrigued by is 3D gaming animation.  I was able to get some introduction to creating a 3-dimensional space in my last summer course, but I would like to delve deeper into that virtual arena… especially with its dynamic rate of innovation!  I feel like Marty McFly hanging onto the bumper of technology with sparks shooting out from under my skateboard!  Well, if you think that last reference dates me, take a look at where the genesis of video gaming began with me… That’s right, “Era 1″… bring on your “Pac Man”, the “Space Invaders” and “Break Out!”  Those were the days, alright… when the characters were subtle and the audio was muddled.  Fast forward thirty years, and I am watching my children flailing their arms about while bringing their Miis to life in a virtual game space.  I wonder what the next 30 years will bring… Will we be installing a Holodeck in our basement for our grandchildren?  Fortunately, we’re not there yet, so I have time to savvy myself up to speed with the young-un’s and to jump into this genre of illustration.

While the exhibit was a fun stride down memory lane, it was much smaller than we anticipated.  Three virtual stations were available to people who wanted to showcase their gaming skills in public, with a loOong line of hopeful players watching on.  There were probably three small rooms with video interviews sporadically mounted throughout the exhibit — none of which I was able to hear well with the crowds.  So the obvious lesson learned here was, don’t visit on the weekend unless absolutely necessary… and if it IS the only time you can go, try to get there when it first opens.  For the homeschoolers & parents of younger children:  WARNING… I will advise you to move along quickly past the huge hypnotic wall of multiple screens.  As I was standing there trying to snap a visually interesting photograph, I was dismayed by the images of a topless women at the hub of this digital display that appeared rather suddenly (and then lingered) in the looped video sequence.  I felt that was inappropriately projected considering the target audience for video games, but I will stay off my soapbox for the moment.  At the end of the day, I would not recommend heading into DC specifically to see this exhibit, which we found to be somewhat underwhelming.  We felt that the potential to show 40 years of technological gaming evolution was underachieved.  On the upside, the kids enjoyed seeing all the different displays of games and listening to narratives through the phone tours.  Additionally, there are other engaging exhibits in the museum, and blocks of attractions to enjoy all over the city.

A Festival Frolic in Annapolis

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Phew!  In desperate need of a break from Google Sketchup tutorials, I am sharing a fun find here in downtown Annapolis.  This weekend, my oldest daughter & I spent a special ‘Mommy & Me’ day at the “First Sunday Arts Festival.”  Even with the heat, it was a nice post derecho diversion.  Speaking of which, our prayers go out to those of you who are still dealing with the aftermath of power outages and damage!  With the intense and rather unseasonal temperatures in our region, it’s not a time that you want to be without A/C!  What a crazy & unexpected mess!!!

KeyLime Designs by Mollie Dennis
(click here to learn more about this artist)

So in spite of the recent tribulations, the crowd and the vendors seemed to be in good spirits, the music was lively and the breeze was just right…  I wanted to share a few pictures of some of our favorite vendors of the day.  Probably one I liked the most was a table of beautiful children’s artwork by KeyLime Designs.  Artist, Mollie Dennis has a degree in Art Education and has focused her talents on these charming and cheerfully colored collages.

Decorative pieces by Art Sea
(click here to find out more about her seaside decor)

Another table we enjoyed was covered with inventive creations by Art Sea… and who wouldn’t love the name! 🙂  Her specialty was a collection of lovely sailboats she crafted from driftwood and grommeted decorator fabrics.  What a great idea for repurposing natural materials into something, oh, so very Chesapeake Chic!

There were clothing vendors, jewelry, housewares, whimsical garden ornamentals, natural soaps… everything you can imagine, and some gorgeous fine art displays.  It was a textile paradise!

And then there was the food!  My feeling is that it’s just not a festival until you have a taste of the town.  Living in Maryland for around 12 years now, you get used to the usual crab claims of the locals and frankly, I was up for something a little different. As we turned the corner of West Street and found another row of tables down Calvert, we were drawn to a tent bearing the sign, “Mad Flava Catering.”  The grill was flaming, the aroma of Caribbean jerked chicken was wafting and my mouth was watering!  One taste, and we knew this was the real deal!  The chef, Andre Sherwood, is Jamaican born and bottles this amazing sauce.  I bought 3 jars, got home and cooked up a batch of chicken for my — and I don’t use this term lightly — highly flavor-critical family.  It was a unanimously HUGE hit, which, for our 4 kids is practically unattainable… many of you parents out there know my pain!  So 12 thumbs up here, Chef Andre!!!  We will be back for more soon, I’m sure!!!

Click here to visit his website & find out more about Chef Andre’s awesome food!


The Beauty at Brookside

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“Jaws” by Seth Goldstein and Paula Stone (2009) created with oriental bittersweet vines (Celastrus orbiculatus).

School is out!!!  Time for fun, excessive playing of video games, popsicles, suntan lotion, and above all… field trips!!!  One place I have never visited, and always wanted to explore with my kids was Brookside Gardens in Montgomery County.  I knew this place by reputation alone and had heard about the butterfly garden that they maintained.  With summer fever alive in our house, a sunny and breezy day in the forecast and the need to get out of the house for a new perspective, we packed up the family van & set off for adventure!

Upon our arrival I could sense the excitement building as we made our way through the jam-packed parking lot.  We parked and unloaded in a way resembling the clown car at the circus and finally began to take it all in… It was beautiful!  On our way to the Conservatory entrance, we passed a series of unusual vine sculptures created by repurposing a non-native, invasive vine from a local parkland.  According to its plaque, these vines would have otherwise smothered and strangled other plants.  This in turn, would have seriously hampered the regeneration of the woodlands necessary to support wildlife. The sculpture was very appropriately named, “Jaws”.

The grounds were so peaceful, even with all of the visitors… and the landscaping was absolutely  stunning!  I could see why this was a haven for photographers!  But by far, the highlight of the day was the “Wings of Fancy” exhibit.  I have visited butterfly

gardens before, but this was such a different experience with the infectious enthusiasm and wonderment of the children.  Gorgeous butterflies fluttered wildly all around us!  They landed on our hats, our shoulders… it seemed like the brighter the color of our clothing, the more they were attracted to us as if we were giant flowers filled with nectar.  Our favorites were these gloriously huge Blue Morpho butterflies from Mexico… They were so vividly hued, and they were everywhere!!!

We had a wonderful day!  Breathtaking gardens, a nice exhibit of paintings in the Visitor Center, a whimsical children’s garden complete with a lovely little treehouse… all came together for an enchanting afternoon.  I highly recommend a visit, just be sure you get a bite to eat before you arrive.  There are no picnicking areas on the grounds, and you will want to be there for a while!