Here Comes Nate

Saturday morning not even 8:30am and we are already getting the outer bands of Nate. Winds, rain and thunder at the moment. Presently predicted to come through Gulf Shores. Not my home but certainly a favorate spot of my family. Good luck everyone. Stay safe. Hope he moves quickly.

Black Holes and G-Waves

Packed up for a day trip and took the family out to Livingston Louisiana for Science Saturday at the LIGO Gravitational Wave Observatory. I have to admit, my family is a bunch of Astro-nerds who don’t mind sitting in a science lecture, so this was pretty much up our alley.

We hadn’t been here in a while but wanted to see what was happening with the recent wave discovery they had. For those of you who really aren’t into science or hadn’t paid attention, the science world was rocked with the detection of gravitational waves caused by the collision of 2 black holes in a distant galaxy over a billion years ago. One of them was 36 times as massive as the sun, the other 29 times. As they approached the end, at half the speed of light, they were circling each other 250 times a second. The two holes coalesced into a single black hole with the equivalent mass of 62 suns. All in a fifth of a second, Earth time. That event rippled through space time and was detected at LIGO.

Freakin Awesome! I guess Einstein was right. 

This was a great time for kids and adults. The exhibit hall was very nice with lots of demos and the staff was very friendly and knowledgable. The lectures were very informative covering the history of LIGO and the discovery of the black hole wave. It was nice to see the large crowd and the interest in the facility.

Geocaching

Perhaps the biggest kept secret for a free family fun time is Geocaching. If you have not heard of this by now, Google or YouTube it for more information. It is filled with videos to get you started and gives tutorials and strategies. Basically it’s a big scavenger hunt using GPS coordinates to find caches hidden all over the place (and by all over the place, I mean all over the world) and pretty much all you need is a smartphone. See the website geocaching.com to sign up for free and get started. It has map applications and you can get a good idea of where the caches are located in your area. Also, go to your app center and find a good app for your smartphone. There are a few rules. You have to register and download the coordinates (caches) Many handheld gps units have a geocache feature. Also, upon finding a cache, you have to sign (if they have a sign sheet) and take an item from the find, as well as, leave an item for the next seeker. At the end of the day, you should log back in (geocaching.com) and record all your finds. It can even get advanced where an item from a cache has to make its way to a final destination by way of “cache hopping” or a cache can just be a clue to finding the final treasure. My kids really love it, whether it’s an ammo box out in the woods, or a micro cache with a magnet stuck under a park bench. Great outdoor fun. Reminds me a bit of Pokemon Go. 

Mike the Tiger 2005-2016

This is Mike VI, the mascot of the LSU Tigers. He was euthanized today because of inoperable brain cancer. I didn’t intend to write this today, but as I was driving home from work I heard the news. This picture of Mike is one my daughter took with my phone while he was sleeping. Like many fans of LSU, we often take our children to see Mike on the LSU campus hoping to instill a sense of pride and devotion to higher learning and education. Many may not know but Mike was a rescue animal when he found his home in Baton Rouge.  I spent many a hour just being a dad with my kids in front of his den trying to get a good look. He had one of the whitest faces of any tiger I have ever seen. My kids and I will miss him.

Terrarium:  A Dad Project 

This is a great little project that I have done twice already and both times it came out very nice. Unfortunately I didn’t think at the time to take pictures so I could post the process.

While taking the kids through the Aquarium of the Americas, we passed through a frog exhibit and I thought, “You know, this would be quite easy to do at home.” One can usually find an old aquarium tank lying around or find one relatively cheap. I got one and set it up in my boy’s room.

Next, I bought a bunch of cheap plants from Wal-Mart, ivies and such and replanted them in containers that would fit at the bottom of the tank and placed river rocks in front to hide the containers from view. I next did the same for a small corner water fall I bought at the pet store (as to keep the water contained from flowing throughout the tank.) You can fix all of this to your liking, adding driftwood and shells, even a backdrop if desired.

To finish things off, I made a frame from spare wood for the top. Basically a 2” wood frame that I stapled screen mesh from Home Depot at the bottom and just set this on top of the tank. I lastly fixed 2 clamp lights on top to regulate the light and temperature.Now my kids get a kick out of catching tree frogs that hang out all around my house in the spring and having a place to put them. They are easy to keep and can be fed by buying live crickets from Petsmart. We tried little turtles but they quickly ran throughout the tank and buried themselves. I had to tear everything apart to find them.
Water the plants as needed and keep a spray bottle nearby for misting the tank. The frogs can get loud but give a nice sound to sleep by. A black light at night also adds to the fun. We added Anole lizards that we caught but they will clean you out of crickets in no time.

Rafting the Pigeon

It was the end of this recent May and school just couldn’t finish fast enough for the start of summer. The plan was already set up long ago for this moment; a trip to the Tennessee Mountains for a rafting trip with the kidos.

After a family pow-wow and sizing up the skill level of the children, as well as, a good guess on how long we thought they could be on a river, we chose the Upper Pigeon River.

The Pigeon River flows through a beautiful area in the Great Smoky Mountains near part of the Appalachian Trail and is a great place for beginners. Its flow is controlled by the hydroelectric dam in western North Carolina (right on the state line.) For rafting purposes, the river is divided into the Upper and Lower sections. The Lower section features gentle waves and beautiful scenery. We did this portion when my son was just a toddler. “Such a great run to get their little feet wet.”

This time we were doing the Upper section that begins at the powerhouse and features Class III-IV whitewater rapids. We booked the trip through the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Gatlinburg (NOC) that just so happened to have “half off” the regular price. (We had a great experience with these guides and would definitely book with them again)
20160531_131830NOC river site

Well the day was beautiful, the kids were excited, and the water was perfect. Everyone put in at the hydroelectric dam. We were off. First rapid right off the bat is PowerHouse (class 4) and everyone got wet. Then it became a scenic world wind ride through: Aftershave (class 2), Second Helping (class 3), Vegematic (class 3), Big Bend (class 3), Roller Coaster (class 3), Lost Guide (class 4) “funny because a raft did lose a guide here on our trip”, Rooster Tail (class 3), and Accelerator (class 4). Lastly, there is a swimming hole float area so the kids can have a bit of fun in the water. Because they haul you on a bus to get to the Put-In spot, you end where you parked your car. (very small town)
20160601_092005The Bean Tree Cafe
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This area is quite nice and you can zip-line if you like. We made our way to The Bean Trees Café for burgers. They have a deck on the river and you can watch the other rafts come in. It was such a great adventure.
Oh, did I mention that the river guides were AWESOME.
20160601_091802

Best Toy in the Toy Chest

I’m a big LEGO fan but perhaps the best toy in the toy chest is the all wood constructed “Quadrilla” marble run set by Hape Toys. Hape is a creator of high-quality developmental products for early learners with a focus on using natural materials and water-based paints with a detail-oriented approach (Perfect for the families who like the “Hands On” learning experience.)

Our Quadrilla set was first purchased from the Learning Express, now gone from Baton Rouge. This set can truly grow with your kids from about the age of 2 through adulthood. If you still enjoy building puzzles, you will enjoy building with these blocks with or without your children. In fact, if you take away the marbles for a couple of years, your infant can play with the primary colored painted blocks till they are ready for construction.

Young children will need the help of adults for construction but the instructions are a step by step picture guide on stacking the blocks with the spacers and the rails for the marble runs. Expansion sets are also available, even ones with musical bars, so when the marble hits it, it plays a musical note.The blocks themselves are all different which adds to the fun. Some have an internal switch that diverts the marble to either side. Some just drop straight through and others shoot the marble to the right or left. They even have a teeter totter and spiral tracks. 
If it’s a long rainy day, we play for hours. There are even more instructions online or you can make up your own and put those online for others to build.
A true Montessori approach to learning.
We have many fond memories of family constructions as well as disasters.