Monday, August 1, 2016

4-H Fair

We  did our first 4-H Fair as a club last week.  It was fun, educational, hot, exhausting, and rewarding.

It was one of the hottest weekends on record for our area and it was rough having to be outside with no AC for 4 days straight.   We also camped out for the weekend but thankfully temperatures cooled off quite a bit overnight. 

And there comes the educational part.  We learned that goats that are upset sound a lot like someone screaming, especially at 1am.  And we learned that roosters start crowing around 4am in the summer.

But despite the lack of sleep the first night, overall we had a really good weekend.

Our club won Best in Show for our display.  Each of the kids filled out a rocket with what STEM topic they enjoyed doing this year, one they would like to do, or a STEM career they were interested in.

We also won an Honorary Mention for our club banner.  Each of the kids decorated a square with a STEM symbol.

And we won Best Dressed for our lab coats and goggles that we wore for the parade of clubs.

I made the kids do entries for Fair (and called them school!).   George chose to enter some of his comic strips, and was awarded a "Very Good" ribbon ....

and Vicki entered a science poster about Trilobites.  She has been fascinated with Trilobite Cousins since I rehung our Charlie's Playhouse prehistory timeline recently.  Since she was still a Cloverbud for this years fair, she received a rainbow participation ribbon.  She joined in for Cloverbud graduation during the fair.

The kids were both very excited about their awards and are already planning to do more entries for next year.  We will be joining the dog training club to work with Andy and one of them will select that as one of their projects.

I'm also going to have one of them do a project involving Galactica (who came to fair with us and was a big hit).

Our club ran a few activities at the fair.   We blew up balloons using vinegar and baking soda - 2/3 cup of vinegar and 1 tbsp. of baking soda gave a decent size balloon.  We put the baking soda into the balloons using a funnel, placed the neck of the balloon over a water bottle with the vinegar inside, then dumped the baking soda in by picking up the balloon. 

We ended up stopping this after the first couple of days because it was a lot of work cleaning out the bottles in between, and wasn't really that impressive.  

Our other activity was shooting off Alka Seltzer rockets.  We found that Alka Seltzer cold tablets make the water orange and actually look really cool because you can see the foaming.  We also found that 1/4 of a tablet in a film canister filled only 1/3-1/2 with water worked the best.   The longer the reaction took, the higher our rockets shot.  We had some hitting the ceiling of the tent - about 30 feet up!

Vickis 9th birthday was during the fair, so we had cake with some of her friends....

and Squidy managed to avoid being in many pictures.  :-)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Camping with the Stars!

The stars in the sky, that is.  ;-) 

I've always been interested in astronomy.  And I've always hated when I would see on Facebook or in the news about big astronomical events like lunar eclipses or meteor showers or whatever because we live where there is a TON of light pollution.  Like New York City level light pollution.   So, when I saw one of those articles recently I decided to look up how far away we would have to travel to be able to see better. 

And while I didn't find someplace relatively local where we could take a quick trip to see these special events, I did find out about Cherry Springs State Park.  Cherry Springs is a Pennsylvania State Park known for it's exceptionally dark skies. 

And then while thinking about where to go camping 4th of July weekend, I discovered that there was going to be a new moon that weekend.  Perfect for star-gazing!

So we spent our weekend camping at the Allegheny River Campground, enjoying the campground activities during the day and checking out the skies at night.  

Our tent site was right on the banks of the Allegheny River.   Normally it's possible to kayak and raft down the river but the river was very low while we were there. 

It took us about 5 hours to get from home to the campground so our first evening was spent setting up camp, enjoying a nice fire, and roasting marshmallows.  We were all a little surprised by how COLD it was at night.  Temps were down around 48-52 degrees each night and only hit the mid-70's during the days.

Our puppy Andy came on the trip with us and all of us had fun wading in the river.  Squidy was a little bit bored until they discovered a huge group of tadpoles to catch (and release later).

 The second night we took a drive over to Cherry Springs.  This was supposed to be the clearest of the nights but it was still pretty cloudy.

They did a brief family program while it was getting dark.  They measured out 100 feet, then had people represent the various planets and had them stand in the correct position proportional to where they are in the solar system.  Vicki was Mercury while Squidy and Daddy helped with the measuring.


It wasn't a great weekend for star-gazing because it was actually pretty cloudy, but we were able to see Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Milky Way, the Big and Little Dippers, Cassiopeia, and a few other constellations, as well as some beautiful sunsets. 

The kids were a little whiny at the beginning of the night but they ended up enjoying it and Vicki commented on how many more stars we could see.

I took pictures using the kit lens with my Canon Rebel. 


Squidy spent the weekend vlogging the trip on his phone.   They did a fire truck ride....

a duck race in the river.....

holiday crafts.....

and played Bingo (which Squidy won).  

We also watched fireworks, and discovered that Andy REALLY doesn't like them.  While we can often see fireworks from home (standing on top of the kids swingset at least), they usually aren't too loud at our house.  At the campground, they were very close and Andy was NOT happy.  Poor puppy.

Andy would cuddle with his blanket when he got tired.

We ended up only making the one trip out to Cherry Springs because the weather was so iffy.  We were able to see quite a few stars just going around the campground.  Unfortunately for these shots I didn't have the focus on the camera set correctly so they came out blurry, but you can see the dipper and the Milky Way.

Our last morning at the campground, we saw a Bald Eagle flying up the river.  Of course I didn't have my camera out and ready, but I was able to get some of the other birds flying all around. 

We had a fun time camping, the kids learned some astronomy, caught some amphibians, made some friends, and had fun running loose for the weekend.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pollinators Nature Program

We went to a wonderful program at a local nature center yesterday.  They do these programs periodically - our river wading a couple months ago was at the same place.  I'm hoping to do more of these next year.

We started out in the education center with a variety of information stations about what animals are pollinators, what pollinators like which plants, and some crafts.

George made a "Stampy CATerpillar".

Vicki made "holiday colors" caterpillars - red/green/white, purple/pink/yellow, and orange/black/purple. 

They also had wings and hats for dress-up while waiting to start the hike.

Along the trail, they had cut-outs of various butterflies and caterpillars for the kids to find.  Once one was found, the naturalist would talk about that particular species.

We hiked out to a meadow where we planted milkweed that the center had received as part of a grant.  The kids had a good time planting them, but it was hot and sunny so Squidy had to take a break to sit in the shade for a little while.  He also had to borrow a hat from a friend that came to the activity with us.  We aren't Mets fans ;-)

The kids haven't done a lot of nature stuff in the past couple of years, and Squidy doesn't really care for heat or mud or water or cold or..... but I'm hoping to build up his tolerance by spending lots of time outside and doing many more of these programs.   Another mom and I are also considering starting a nature/geocaching group in the fall.
At the end of the program, they gave out native plants to everyone.  They want to encourage planting species that will help the native wildlife.  Our yard is pretty much a native wildflower meadow anyway but we took home milkweed and heartleaf aster to plant, as well as two varieties of milkweed seed to plant in the fall.  Maybe we'll start seeing more butterflies.