Friday, February 27, 2015

Bayard Conservation Area

 12 Miles South of Jacksonville, FL
February 2015
Laurel and I had a rare few hours to ourselves and she wanted to go for a hike (heart stops to melt moment), so we went to Bayard Conservation Area. Bayard is my favorite place to hike within 30 minutes of home. It's a huge protected area with many miles of trails offering countless loop and out & back hiking options through several different forest types and one trail even ends at the banks of the St. Johns River. Since we didn't have Kellisa, I was able to take Laurel on a trail that features a very cool, but too narrow for any kind of mobility chair, boardwalk. The rest of the trails are wide, flat and usually free from mud. We didn't see any wildlife, but Laurel was ready to learn how to follow a trail using painted blazes on trees. (More pictures)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A is for Abigail

An Almanac of Amazing American Women
Lynne Cheney
Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser
A is for Abigail is another important book written by former Second Lady of the United States, Lynne Cheney. Even though Mrs. Cheney wrote the book to share the story of American women with children, I was able to learn a lot as I read the stories to Kellisa and Laurel. The book is full of brilliant illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser.
Mrs. Cheney does a great job featuring women of all backgrounds as they achieve wide ranging accomplishments. Women who fought for equal rights are included. Also, women who excelled in education, philanthropy, sports, science, math, exploration, and many other fields are featured. As a father of two daughters, this is the history lesson I want to share with them as it lays the foundation for future learning and goal setting. I want Laurel to know that she can do anything and this book proves it far better than any words I could come up with on my own.
Even though we only live about an hour north of Bethune-Cookman College, I had no idea that it was founded by Mary McLeod Bethune, a daughter of former slaves. I love reading about mountaineering and since Kellisa was born, I've found myself reading everything I can find about women mountaineers. Mrs. Cheney shares the story of Annie Smith Peck who in 1911 was the first person to summit Mount Coropuna. Annie planted a "Votes for Women" flag on the peak. Mrs. Cheney sets the example herself and through her it's up to the parents to help their daughters follow in so many footprints.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Our 50 States

A Family Adventure Across America
Lynne Cheney
Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser
Our 50 States by former Second Lady of the United States, Lynne Cheney is an excellent introduction to America for young children. Mrs. Cheney wanted to share all the beauty and variety our great country has to offer in a fun and educational way. And she succeeds in telling the story of America with magnificent illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser.
Besides a great history lesson for kids, I love that a main theme throughout the book is a focus on our National Parks, a subject both my daughters enjoy. And, what kid doesn't love animals? Mrs. Cheney has that covered too! Native birds, animals, and reptiles can be found on every page of this inspiring book.
Our 50 States can be used in the home for educational purposes and/or planning the next family Great American Road Trip! I knew Teddy Bears were named after President Teddy Roosevelt, but I did not know that the first bear was made in Mississippi by Rose Michtom in 1902 after the President refused to shoot a bear in the woods of Mississippi.
Kellisa and Laurel get excited learning about places they've already visited as it ignites their memories. They may get even more excited learning about new places to visit. High on their list is a cave you can drive through in Missouri and seeing the world's most active volcano in Hawaii.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Trembling Earth Nature Trail

Stephen C. Foster State Park
January 2015

After our animal encounters afternoon, we still wanted to get a nice little hike in, so we headed to Stephen C. Foster State Park in the southwestern portion of the Okefenokee Swamp.

I love this picture of Laurel. When she's not pushing Kellisa, she's usually leading the way. The boardwalk portion of Trembling Earth Nature Trail abruptly ended in the swamp- leading to Laurel's "confused" hand gesture. We were only able to hike 1.04 miles of the usual 2.5 mile trail. We still enjoyed the boardwalk, trail, and swamp as the sun was setting fast on this crisp January afternoon.

We ended our visit by walking an additional .43 of a mile along the park road looking for alligators. Surprisingly, we didn't see any and both girls were disappointed. I had to remind them that they got to pet an alligator earlier in the day. That fact didn't help as much as seeing the family of deer feeding on the roadside grass as we were leaving the park.
More pictures can be found (here).

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Blessing, One Opossum, Two Snakes, Two Turtles, and a Gator...

Laura S. Walker State Park
January 2015
With Laurel, I captured the moment the ranger removed the alligator for the finale of the wildlife encounters afternoon at Laura S. Walker State Park. I then turned to Kellisa and caught her excitement at the thought of seeing an alligator up close and petting it.
However, this story and our day started a few hours earlier on a Saturday morning in our home. I was looking at a map for a place to go hiking. Laura S. Walker State Park is on the Northeastern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp and it's about a 90 minute drive one way. Because other swamp access points are closer, we never visited Laura S. Walker State Park. But the little park symbol caught my eye for some reason and I went to their website to investigate the trail system.
Before I could find the trail tab, I read that the park was offering a wildlife encounter program that afternoon. I knew the girls would love seeing and petting animals so my decision was made to visit before I looked at the trail map. A quick glance reveled a promising trail running through the forest and along a lakeshore.
We hade to hurry to make it there in time for the animals. I just told the girls we were going on a hike because I didn't want them disappointed if we missed the animals. We didn't have the supplies to pack a picnic lunch, so I figured we'd buy a fast food lunch when we exited the expressway. When we arrived at our exit, all the drive-thru lines were extremely long. I knew we didn't have time even though both girls were already asking for lunch.
Without a Plan B, I kept driving. I knew there wasn't any other fast food places on our route. I was hoping to pass a decent gas station where I could run in and buy a few things to eat in the car and hopefully hold the girls off a few hours. Before I could find a gas station...magic happened.
I drove through a small town intersection and saw a sign out of the corner of my eye that said, "Free Food". I turned the car around to investigate and sure enough, some organization (Manna Ministries - Thank You!) was handing out free lunches. I got in line and in a few seconds, they were handing us three lunches. I offered to "donate" to their ministries and they refused. They handed me a prayer card to fill out which I happily did with some of my usual prayers. I've been let down many times in the past, but I'm also smart enough to never pass up free prayers, good thoughts or well wishes. I'll take whatever we can get...we usually need them!
The lunch was outstanding even if it was a little difficult to eat in the car and without utensils. I had to pull over so we could eat our mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables with our fingers. I was thankful for our "magic" meal and my thick stack of napkins in the car. We arrived at the park with full bellies and just in time for the animal encounters.
I will let the many pictures share the story of how much the girls loved the local swamp animals (one opossum, two snakes, two turtles, and an alligator). You will notice a lack of hiking pictures because we found out from the Park Office that a trail bridge was still under construction. We would need another Plan B for our hike...


Friday, February 13, 2015

Visitor Center Boardwalk

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
January 2015
I usually don't get too excited about what I call, "short, little boardwalks behind visitor centers so a park can call itself accessible". One exception is the short (0.46 of a mile round trip), little boardwalk behind the visitor center at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It's a nice starter path to see what the refuge has to offer. We did learn one lesson the hard way. The visitor center closes at 4pm and we were caught on the boardwalk. Since we couldn't re-enter the visitor center to leave using the accessible route, I had to carry Kellisa and then her wheelchair down a few steps. We were fortunate that I was able to do that. I'm not sure what we would have done if I couldn't lift/carry Kellisa and/or her chair. What if she had a motorized wheelchair? Anyway, we had a nice little walk.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Black Point Wildlife Drive

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
January 2015
We observed many birds and a few gators on our 7 mile Black Point Wildlife Drive in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. More pictures can be found (here).