Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hemingway's Home and Cats! (Key West Excursion)

After separating from my daughter, sister, & niece, my mom & I headed to Hemingway's Home.
I was excited to see his famous polydactyl cats!!!

Here's a picture of his study which was upstairs in a little building by the pool. My favorite part was a piece of artwork that hung on the walls that showed a 'ghost' Hemingway, in his study, alongside some of his cats! The cats could 'see' him, even though he's a ghost.

Here's a tour guide, not ours, feeding one of Hemingway's cats.

The Hemingway house has approximately 50 cats, all of which carry the polydactyl gene, though only about half of them have the physical trait of having 6 toes (rather than 4 or 5). Hemingway was given a 6-toed cat by a ship's captain, and the cats are descendants of that original cat.

There's a cat cemetery on the grounds and each of Hemingway's cats are buried there. I was impressed that the guide (above - feeding the cat) said he knew the names of all 50+ cats!

And, just a self-portrait in a mirror in the gardens!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cruising to Key West

While on our Spring Break cruise, our first day on shore was at Key West, Florida.

We had a gorgeous view when we arrived and were thankful our balcony
was on the correct side to see us pull in!

Our excursion plan for the day: going on a "Big 3" adventure - sail boat, kayak, and snorkeling. HOWEVER... we got a note the night before that our excursion was CANCELLED! So, we sadly made alternate plans...

We took a "hop on/hop off" tour.

We drove by the "southernmost point in the continental USA"...which had a long line of people wanting to be photographed next to it.

We saw several "Conch Mobiles" which are each unique and painted to reflect Key West.

After this, we 'hopped off' and separated. My mom and I headed off to see Hemingway's house and a couple of museums while Alex and her aunt and cousin went to spend the day at the beach.

Friday, April 27, 2012

" costly a sacrfice upon the altar of freedom."

While we're in France this summer, we'll be touring Normandy, the site of the Allied invasion. Last weekend, we watched Saving Private Ryan to become more familiar with June 6th, 1944, otherwise known as D-Day. It is an incredible movie, not just about D-Day but also about WWII. Of course, as a war movie, it is quite bloody - in fact the bloodiest movie I've ever watched. And, I did fast forward through a couple of 'inappropiate conversations' (which were while they were waiting for the tanks by the bridge). But, we are both a lot more aware of what D-Day meant to the war now.

So, who is this Private Ryan that needs saving? He is one of 4 brothers... the other 3 having all been killed in the war. Some soldiers are sent on a mission to find him and bring him home so his mother doesn't have to suffer the loss of her 4th son. While the leader is explaining why he thinks they need to "save" Private Ryan, he reads this incredible, elogent, moving letter written by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. It was written in November of 1864 to a Mrs Bixby in Boston...

Dear Madam:
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours very sincerely and respectfully,
Abraham Lincoln.

All Aboard!! (Our First Ever...CRUISE!)

Last month, Alex & I went on a Carnival Caribbean cruise with my mom, my sister, and her daughter. My mom has been on quite a few cruises, but I just wasn't sure if it was the right type of trip for me. However, it sounded like a great way to take a 'girls' trip' and to see some places we've never seen before: Key West, Florida and The Bahamas!

We've been to Galveston quite a few times and it was neat to watch the familiar sites shrink away as we sailed off on our great adventure.

This is a gorgeous view off the back of the ship. As we traveled, it was often incredibly windy on the outside decks. They had a jogging track around the ship and some people were using it, but I couldn't imagine jogging into that wind! So, I spent some time here, in the back of the ship, where it wasn't so windy.

There are lots of activities on board a cruise ship - especially in the evenings. Our favorite two shows were a magic show (wonderful!) and a juggling show (although he wasn't 'perfect', he was incredibly entertaining!). We also went to see karaoke several times, and my sister participated! And, we watched a comedy show (they have early 'family friendly' shows, and later 'adults only' shows). Usually, we ate the more formal dinners where you are served course after course of delicious food. I was disappointed in the buffet food, though - it was pretty much 'buffet' quality! And, it was hard to find food early in the morning, though room service was FREE - but not very reliable.

Most of my photos were of the excursions, so I'm disappointed to not have more to share. But, I'll leave you with this one of Alex participating in an Animal Quiz Show. She was in the final THREE out of the 30-40 who started! Mostly adults! And, one of the 'final three' was a couple and the other was a zoology professor!!! I'm very proud of Alex and her knowledge of animals!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Saddest Part...

I just finished another book by my new favorite auther, Gloria Whelan. The saddest part? I was overcome with an urge to share the journey with someone while in the middle of the book! But, I didn't want to give too much away to Alex, because I want her to read it soon. It was a wonderful book!

The book, Listening for Lions, is about 13-year-old Rachel Sheridan. She is living in British East Africa in 1919 when a worldwide influenza epidemic breaks into her life. Her parents die and she is left as an orphan just as her mom and dad were orphans. From the stories she's heard of their childhood, she is fearful of the orphanage. In the midst of her grief, a couple change her life even more drastically and send her off, under a cloud of lies, to live in England.

The story reminds me of The Secret Garden and is a wonderful tale of charity, love, greed, lies and more. Rachel is a remarkable young lady who is torn apart by what she is doing while she tries to do the right thing. But, the right decisions are not always black and white.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Animated Norman Conquest of England (1066)

As part of our summer trip to Europe, we will be viewing the Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy, France. I have never even heard of this 'tapestry'. The subject of this huge piece, which I read is as long as 3 swimming pools, is the Norman Conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066. I've been reading about the subject today...

First of all, I always enjoy the information at "history for kids" or Kidipede. It has a very brief overview.
I spent most of my time at this chidding stone site. This site really helped me understand both the invasion/conquest and the tapestry.

This site is the actual website for the Bayeux Tapestry. It talks you through the tapestry scene by scene. I just wish the photos were larger! It also has ACTIVITIES and LEARNING RESOURCES! I haven't looked at these yet, but they sound neat!

My favorite resource was the animated bayeux tapestry (found on YouTube) that I have posted above. But, I had to learn what the invasion was about before I really understood the video! GREAT video! I can't wait to see the actual tapestry now!

P.S. I came across this video by historyteachers today. I have mixed feelings about it, but I think kids might really like it. And, I was happy to know enough about this time in history, now, that I understood the entire video!

Saturday, April 14, 2012


A new Rembrandt exhibit opens at our museum tomorrow that showcases ten of his drawings and the drawings of some of his students. I think I'll go see it this week while Alex is away at camp - her school's class trip for 6th grade. (Then, I'll take her to see it later!) While looking into Rembrandt, I found a nice 30 minute video on UNC-TV:

This isn't the same exhibit I'll be seeing, but it gave me a good background on Rembrandt.

A self-portrait from Wikipedia
There is also a site called The Rembrandt Teaching Project that includes a biography, lesson plans, activities, and more! I especially like the "During His Life" page that highlights some of the other people and events that were taking place during the time of Rembrandt.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Need a Good Wild West Book?

I just finished yet another book by Gloria Whelan! I love her historical fiction for children. (This one is listed as ages 8-12, but I think older children would enjoy it, too. I did!

Miranda's dad was killed during Custer's "Last Stand" at Little Big Horn. Now, Miranda and her mother are traveling with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. Miranda's mom is very upset when Miranda starts making friends with the Indian children of the show. And, when she learns that Sitting Bull is coming to be a part of the show, she is tempted to quit. But, if they leave, they'll never afford to move back to the farm.
Alex last summer
I love that this story introduces the reader to so many characters from the wild west like Buffalo Bill Cody, Sitting Bull, General Custer, and Annie Oakley. And, you hear the story of Custer's Last Stand from Sitting Bull's point of view! 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Poetry Month: A Different Kind of Book

My daughter's class is doing several things for poetry month:
  1. They must read two books of poetry (Alex chose a book of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and a Shel Silverstein book)
  2. They had to choose a poet to study (actually, they submitted 2 choices and the poet was assigned - Alex got her 2nd choice, Longfellow - her first choice was Emily Dickinson)
  3. The teacher is reading aloud the book Hidden by Helen Frost

Alex is loving this book, so I had to read it for myself. The story is a very unusual story about two girls, Darra and Wren. Darra's father is a car theif, and one day he accidentally 'kidnaps' Wren who is hiding in the back seat of her mother's car. The girls, who were eight when the kidnapping took place, are now fourteen years old and away at summer camp. And, they end up recognizing each other.

This is an amazing story! And, what throws a 'twist' in the writing is that it is written in poetry! You see the story unfold from both girl's point of view, and the poetry is written in a different form for each girl! This is free-form poetry and doesn't rhyme. And, at the end of the book, you'll find something else 'hidden' in the poetry.

Alex and I both recommend this unusual book of poetry!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Crystal Bridges Art Museum

This weekend, Alex & I went with my husband's aunt to see a new art museum: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. The museum, which opened in November, was founded by Alice Walton of the Walmart family. The museum is a nonprofit organization and admission is FREE because of a grant from Walmart.

The museum buildings are amazing and it sits on a gorgeous 120 acre site with over 3 miles of walking and biking trails. Unfortunately, it was raining, so we didn't go out on the trails.

From the site: "the Museum complex encompasses a library, the hands-on Experience Art Studio and Drop-in Studio, a glass-enclosed gathering hall for lectures, films, and other events, a Museum Store, a restaurant, and areas for outdoor concerts and public events. (Above: part of a trail and sculpture taken through large glass window.)

The collection of American art is divided into 4 sections: Colonial, 19th Century, Modern, and Contemporary. The Colonial collection included art by Gilbert Stuart (the Constable-Hamilton portrait of George Washington shown above), John Trumbull, John Singleton Copley, and Samuel Finley Breese Morse (of morse code fame and whose art I discussed here).
Trompe L'oeil by Haberle from Wikipedia
The 19th Century area includes some trompe l'oeil which is art that tricks the eye into thinking it's 3 dimensional. One piece was by Haberle, though it isn't the one I posted above. There was also work by Mary Cassatt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and John Singer Sargent (whose art I copied for my charcoal portraits).

Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter which was on Saturday Evening Post (from Wikipedia)
The Modern and Contemporary sections included art by Norman Rockwell (one of my favorite artists!), Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns (who we studied here), Louise Nevelson (who we studied here), and Jacob Lawrence.

I loved the layout of the museum. There were two places where you could stop and rest and look at art books or get on iPads to learn more about the art. And, there were two hands-on activity centers. Unfortunately, one closed just as we found it. But, we spent some time in the other. It had quite a few activities (including a dressing up area and places to build and to learn about art). Alex and Aunt C had fun making butterfly art!

Monday, April 09, 2012

Spring on Our Ranch

I guess I've never blogged about it, but last January we bought almost 400 acres in Oklahoma! We now have 97 mama cows - all of which have either already given birth or are getting ready to. Yesterday, my mom came to see the land for the first time. We went exploring with Alex and found lots of 'signs of spring'.....

One of our hay fields is just starting to pop up.

We have 7 ponds.... and there were THOUSANDS of tadpoles! And we saw a few frogs - very tiny frogs!

We saw dozens of dragonflies...including this one who had just emerged from its exoskeleton!
He was busy chomping on a leaf.

We bought 5 bulls this weekend! (Our cows are black angus and black angus mixes.)

One of my snag trees that stands in the middle of a field. I love it! I've asked them to NEVER cut this beauty down. And, our ranch manager said he's seen a bald eagle on our place...twice! I don't know if it's used this tree, but the tree is open for whoever wants to use it!

We have a 'grove' of black walnut trees! 19 of them! They are just starting to get leaves. My mom had a black walnut tree in her backyard while she was growing up, so she can help us process the nuts!

One of the beautiful wildflowers we saw. I'll have to learn how to identify them!

We have an underground natural spring that has been tapped into. We were getting some water out
of the spout...and saw this garter snake! (But, you all know I love snakes!) We also saw a garter
snake swimming on one of the ponds.

Not a great photo, but these are the first ducks I've seen on our property. When I zoomed in,
I was able to see identify them as blue-winged teals! Very cute!!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


I finished another book by Gloria Whelan. This was another book for probably tweens. It only took me about an hour to read it, and I learned a lot about logging history in Michigan! The book is The Wanigan: A Life on the River.

So, what is a wanigan? And what does it have to do with logging? A wanigan is a boat used in logging.

The year is 1878 and Annabel Lee's dad is now a logger. Annabel Lee and her mom move onto a wanigan where they will cook for th loggers. The loggers spend their days moving the logs towards Lake Huron. 

Annabel Lee hates life on the river and the fact that every morning, when she wakes up, she's someplace new. She wants to move back home to Detroit - into a REALL house that stays in one place. But, she must help her mom to cook for the men. And get along with the only other child on the logging trip - an irritating boy. Logging is a dangerous lifestyle, and Annabell Lee's journey is perilous. And, when they reach Lake Huron, will they have enough money to buy a real home? Or will they spend another year on the river living in a wanigan?

My First Art Class: Immitating John Sargent Singer's Portraits

For two of our portraits (my 3rd & 4th out of 5), we copied work by the famous American portrait artist, John Sargent Singer.

This was a young looking soldier that I couldn't find a copy of online. He did look young in the painting, but I unfortunately also made him a little too feminine. It was my first attempt at a male!


And, on the left is my attempt at my 2nd male by Sargent. My skin is too 'smooth' and Sargent's portrait is looking down at us while mine is looking straight at us. Again, I felt mine turned out too feminine and, instead of shadows, it almost looks like 'my guy' is wearing eye shadow. I also had a HARD time with the hair, but ended up loving how it turned out! Not exactly like Sargent's, but a neat look ! Overall, I'm pleased with my fourth portrait!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Our (Gingerbread) Easter Bunny Hutch

Last night, Alex and I made a gingerbread Easter Bunny Hutch... (and I'm looking for a few good Easter projects to do while we're at Nana's house this weekend)

My First Art Class: Portraits

As I mentioned yesterday, I just finished my firt ever art class - a 12 week series with 6 weeks of pencil and 6 weeks of charcoal. We focused on still life and portraits.

My 1st portrait: (again, the photos are lighter than my actual drawing) For our first two portraits, we worked on faces from magazine adds.

Portrait #2 - I don't know why this one looks kind of purple. Anyway, this one was also from a magazine. I keep getting glimpses of who this really is. Can you guess? I see it most around her mouth or nose.
Answer: Drew Berrymore

Portrait #5: (I'll share #3 & #4 on another post) This was my final portrait which I completed yesterday. It is in charcoal while the first two are in pencil. I don't know the artist's name, but this is a copy of a 'real' piece of art. I don't know what kind of hat or shirt the man has on, but I copied what was drawn.

And this is a photo of me, yesterday, after my last class. Each drawing was this size - we started with about an 8.5x11 (whether from a magazine or a photocopy) and "blew it up" to make it this size. 

Each class was 2 hours long and I struggled weekly. I'd see what I was supposed to copy and thought there was no way I could do it. I struggled for about 1.5 hours each week...and then I'd see my drawing start to come to life! As a new artist, this was an amazing feeling!

Monday, April 02, 2012

My First Art Class: Still Life

I just completed my first ever art class! It was twelve weeks - six weeks of pencil and six weeks of charcoal. Each week I was incredibly startled by what I was doing! I'd look back at the art and couldn't believe that I had drawn what I'd drawn. I had a wonderful instructor and Alex will probably take lessons with him in the fall. So, here are my "still life" drawings....

Week 1 (pencil): Several figures set out and we needed to draw in correct proportion. Then, we worked on adding shading to one of them. (By the way, my drawings are darker - for some reasons the photos all turned out too light. I have a new camera and I need to learn how to use it!)

Week 2 (pencil): This still life included a vase and some fruit (as you can hopefully see!). Again, we were supposed to sketch in everything with correct proportions and then work on adding shading to one of them (in my case, the apple!).

Week 8 (1st charcoal drawing as I missed week 7): This week we added both coal AND fabric. I found the fabric REALLY tough.

Week 9 (charcoal and white chalk): For this still life, we used brown paper and added highlights with white chalk. We also had to/got to draw a reflection in the tea pot! And, more tough!

I have a much greater appreciation for artists now! And, yes, I'd like to continue studying art, though it isn't a passion at this point. I really only drew a couple of times besides during class. We were supposed to work on our drawings throughout the week. Hmmm...

Istanbul, Not Constantinople

Alex is studying Roman history and, last week, studied Constantine the Great. Constantine is probably best remembered as the Christian emperor who legalized Christianity in Roman society. He also moved his capital to Istanbul which was renamed Constantinople.

Alex's teacher shared this video of the song "Istanbul, Not Constantinople" and it is quite catchy! I like how it teaches another fact, too...that New York was once New Amsterdam!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Book Review: The Impossible Journey by Gloria Whelan

This is the fourth book I've read by this author, Gloria Whelan. About two years ago, Alex and I read Mackinac Island triology which is set in Michigan during the War of 1812. We really enjoyed the book and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book I just read, The Impossible Journey, was also written by this author.

This was another story about Russia that I highly recommend. And, there is a companion book, Angel on the Square, that I've alread requested!

The book is about a sister and brother who are living in Leningrad, Russia, in 1934. Their parents are arrested and Marya, the oldest sibling, decides to take her little brother, Georgi, on a 1,000 mile journey in search of their mom. Along the way they have tough encounters and meet some fascinating people. It's an "impossible journey" and will it result in a family reunion in the end?

This book would make a GREAT unit study - topics could include the geography of Russia (you could map their travels), lemmings, the Northern Lights, the deer herders of Siberia, Stalin and the Russian Gulag, and much more! I hope to use this book (and possibly the companion book) as a study with Alex next year as we study modern history.
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