Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Dad Would be Smiling Today

The first time my parents went to Florida they stayed at Daytona Beach.  One highlight of their trip was touring the Daytona International Speedway.  I can't tell you how many times I heard my dad talk about the race track; it really impressed him.  Today we went to Daytona Beach and toured the Speedway, and I could hear my dad the whole time!  I can only imagine the conversations we would have if he were still living.

Grandstands at Daytona International Speedway
What makes the DIS so special?  Well, it is the birthplace of NASCAR.  NASCAR was the brainchild of racing enthusiast William France.  He envisioned a sanctioned sport with unified rules and a points system which would draw large numbers of fans.  With no formal racetrack in Daytona, portions of NASCAR races were held on the beach at Daytona Beach.  In time, France built a race track, the Daytona International Speedway.  It has a seating capacity of almost 168,000.  To optimize viewing, the turns are tilted at 31-degree angles, and while race cars speed by at 160+ mph, a constant speed of 70 mhp must be maintained so as not to slide off the turn.  (This is the part that impressed my dad the most.)  While not the oldest racetrack, it is home to the Daytona 500 which opens the NASCAR circuit every year in February.  Today NASCAR is the number one spectator sport.
The 31-degree banking of the turns
2010 Daytona 500 Winner, Jamie McMurtry
Victory Lane

Good seats!
We were hoping to drive on Daytona Beach, but due to hide tide, we will have to save that adventure for another visit.  
Bummed we didn't get to drive on this beach.
You can see all the sand from the cars that came off the beach.

We didn't get to go trick-or-treating this year because of our travels, but Aidan and Naomi did have costumes and came to my door while we were still at our condo in Bonita Springs.  Don't they look cute?
Pirate Weird Beard

Naomi, the Sweet Witch
Still hoping to see the shuttle launch on Wednesday.  We're praying for good weather!

Today's trivia questions:

34.  This racetrack was built in 1909 and has permanent seating for 257,000 people.  What is it's name?

35.  What is the nickname of the Daytona 500?

36.  How many laps does a driver make in order to drive 500 miles at the Daytona International Speedway?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Day at the Beach

We arrived in Orlando yesterday afternoon and picked up Brent and Grandpa Fennema from the airport.  It was so good to see Brent again after three weeks away.  The kids couldn't wait to get hugs and kisses and even made him sit in the back seat just to be closer to him.  It also means that for the first time in three weeks I won't get to drive every time.  Not sure I like it, riding in the back seat, but what are my choices?.

The Air Force boys
Today we went to Cocoa Beach for the Air Force Air Show.  This was a free show over the water and all we had to do was show up with food, drinks, and sunscreen.  Too bad we forgot to put the sunscreen on our bodies.  We're all a little bit redder this evening than when we started out this morning.  However, this is the way to watch an air show.  Between acts, the kids could swim and play in the sand and nobody ever said "I'm bored!!!"  Evan and Brent are much better at identifying planes and jets than I am, so I won't even try.  I did hear words like Confederate Air Force, Phantom, Trainer, F-22, C-130, but they mean nothing to me, nothing.  I've just been informed by my boys that we saw the F-18 Super Hornet break the sound barrier (great pictures here).  The noise was incredible and the shock wave was visible.  I've never witnessed it first-hand until today.  The final group to fly was the Thunderbirds.  This group of precision pilots flew maneuvers for about 30 minutes over the Atlantic waters.  Amazing, totally amazing.

The diamond formation
All six planes flying in formation
Something scary happened to Evan, and to a lesser degree to Aidan, while they were swimming.  The boys were stung by a jellyfish.  Evan was stung in several places, including his armpit, knee, and ankles.  Aidan only had one sting on his knee.  Evan said it felt like a sensation of hundreds of needles or pins piercing his skin, but was not exactly painful.  After coming out of the water and complaining of the sting, they talked to the lifeguard who applied vinegar and gave instructions to take a white vinegar bath when we returned home.  The bath has been taken and the sting doesn't hurt anymore.  We will send both boys to bed with a dose of Benadryl as an extra measure of caution.  We did some research and think they were most likely stung by an Atlantic sea nettle, which average 12" across.
How big was that jellyfish?

The blue flag was flown after the boys were stung.
It means dangerous marine life present in water.
What stop to Cocoa Beach would be complete without a stop at Ron Jon Surf Shop?  We walked away with a few hats and t-shirts, so we did our job to support the local economy!

Standing by Ron Jon's PT Cruiser
Just an update for the space shuttle launch.  NASA has delayed the launch until Wednesday at 3:00.  We're trying to figure out if/how we can still see the launch.  Stay tuned.

That's me and Evan... I'm finally in a picture!
Today's trivia questions:

32. At what Air Force Base are the Thunderbirds based?

33. What two space shuttles have met with disaster?  (Do you remember where you were when you heard the news?)

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Making a Stand for Clean Water" was Successful!

Not done cleaning and packing yet, but I need a break and I’m going to write on my blog.  It’s the top of the 8th inning and it looks like Texas didn’t show up for this game.  That really puts them in a hole if they lose tonight.
Do you know why I love baseball so much?  1.  Each team takes turns.  There are no interceptions, no tackles, and no loose puck turnovers.  The only stealing is second, sometimes third, and rarely home.  2.  The rules are easy, even simple, and the umpire’s word is final.  3.  There is no clock.  The game ends when the third out is made in the ninth, but until then every pitch counts.  4.  Anyone can be the hero.
So, do you want to know how our lemonade stand went today?  We served about 30 people lemonade and snacks at the clubhouse.  Our neighbors were so supportive of my kids and really took the time to listen to them.  Many told stories of their experiences traveling to Africa, or of their children who had done humanitarian relief work in countries like Haiti where cholera is rampant because of unclean water.  Evan worked on a power point presentation sharing facts and everyone stopped to read it.  So how did we do?  We will be donating $123 to Samaritan’s Purse toward the purchase of a household water filter.  Great job kids.  I'm so proud of you!
Our first customer, Scott
Two trivia questions today, one from Evan and one from Naomi.
32.  (Evan’s)  Here’s the riddle:  A man leaves home.  He goes straight, turns left, goes straight, turns left, goes straight, turns left and returns home where he is met by two men wearing masks.  Who were the men?  (2 points)

33. (Naomi’s)  Our trip includes eight cities where we stopped (or will stop).  Unscramble the names of the cities.  (4 points)  For two extra points, put them in chronological order.
I -- C -- E -- O -- S -- B
I -- C -- N -- A -- I -- T -- N -- I -- N -- C
A -- K -- O - V -- L -- E -- L -- I -- N -- S -- C -- J
R -- A -- D -- O -- N -- L -- O
H -- E -- S -- I -- A -- A -- P -- N -- S -- W -- H
I -- E -- F -- O -- G -- E R -- N -- O -- G -- P
S -- O -- I -- A -- N -- P -- I G -- N -- R -- S -- T -- N -- B
H -- R -- E -- T -- N -- N -- O -- S -- L -- A -- C

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

One Last Field Trip

Future scientists... scuba divers... veterinarians....
On Monday we made a return trip to Mote Aquarium in Sarasota.  We just loved seeing all the animals again.  A few tears were shed (by a certain young, tender-hearted girl) when we said goodbye to the manatees.  She hopes to 'adopt' an aquarium animal in the near future.  On our way home we stopped at Casey Key to go swimming in the Gulf.  It was low tide and the drop-off was close to shore (not deep, but Aidan went from knees to armpits in two steps!).  We did walk out to the sand bar and body surf which was very fun.  The highlight of the day was shelling.  Aidan was the first to find a fighting conch shell.  The amazing thing is that this shell was still whole and had not been battered by the surf.  Evan, Naomi, and I joined in and we found 25-30 more fighting conch shells in varying degrees of wholeness.  The fun thing about this stop is that it was a random beach I picked out of a travel book!
A pumpkin manatee
An unbroken Atlantic giant cockle.
( oops--I forgot to take pictures of the fighting conch shells.)
Wave jumping!  Whoo-hoo!!!

Today we made our last field trip from the condo.  We visited the Six Mile Cypress Slough.  Basically, this is where the Caloosahatchie River flows, very slowly, through Fort Myers into Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, and then into the Gulf of Mexico.  The job of a slough is to slow down the flow of a river so the sediment can settle and clear water can flow through to the bay.  The trees and vegetation that live in a slough feed on the sediments, further purifying the water.

One of the great trees that grow in the slough is the amazing Cypress tree.  This tree can live in water close to nine months a year.  The trees have unique roots that spread and intertwine creating a very sturdy base, plus they help bring oxygen to the trees.  Our guide said that even in hurricanes, which thankfully don't come through SW Florida often, these trees survive quite well.

Cypress trees and roots
The slough also is home to many wild animals.  Some of the animals we saw on our trip today were turtles, a feral pig, two alligators, a blue heron, and a black-capped night heron (unusual in the fact that this is a nocturnal animal, and it was eating).  We had the advantage of being on a raised walkway so we were not on any menus!  Other animals that have been seen in the slough are raccoons, bobcats, panthers, bears, white-tail deer, woodpeckers, and numerous birds and butterflies.

Small gator
Feral pig
It was a very hot, humid day and the A/C was a welcome relief on the ride home, plus the promise of the pool after lunch!

Before heading down to the pool, I had to make good on my promise to take the kids miniature golfing.  Yesterday we washed and vacuumed the truck with the bribe reward of mini golfing at our favorite place, Safari Golf.  So, in the 90-degree heat we golfed (I'm the only one who seemed to notice the heat).  The bonus for me was 1) I got three holes-in-one swinging leftie and 2) it was "Wacky Wednesday" so all games were just $4!  Yeah!!!

Crazy golfers
A note about tomorrow... we will be cleaning the condo, doing laundry, packing our suitcases and the truck, and having a lemonade stand.  The kids and I talked about how important it is to help others, even when we're not at home.  We talked about food pantries, shelters, and other people who need help, but the idea that everyone liked was helping families in Africa get clean drinking water.  For $200 we can help Samaritan's Purse purchase a home water filter for one family to have clean water for life.  We put up fliers, baked cookies and brownies, and told people at the pool what we were doing.  So, tomorrow afternoon from 2:30-4:00 you can think of us as we "Make A Stand For Clean Water."

Here are your trivia questions:

28.  The word slough rhymes with:  a) tough   b) stew   c) low   d) cow

29.  True or False:  The water in a slough is fresh.

30.  Because cypress tree roots are under water for great lengths of time, here is a special root section that grows above water and looks like a stump.  What is that root "stump" called?

31.  What two teams are in the World Series?  Which team has won more World Series titles?  (2 points)

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Islands

Every trip we make to SW Florida, we always find time to visit Sanibel and Captiva Islands. These two islands are part of the barrier islands and lay just west of Fort Myers.  The toll to cross the causeway bridge is $6 but it takes you to a different way of life.  Life on these islands seems to slow down as many people ride bikes instead of driving and beach parking crops up around most corners.  Each time we visit the islands, our destination has always been the beaches of Captiva, which means driving until the road ends.  This past Tuesday, however, we found time to visit the J.N. "Ding" Darling Nature Preserve at Tarpon Bay and the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum before finding the end of the road.
Bridge from Sanibel back to mainland.  Goodbye islands!
This week is Ding Darling Days at the Nature Preserve to honor the founders birthday.  ("Ding" was born in Norwood, Michigan in 1876!)  This means there were lots of free activities and discounts on tours.  Our first stop was the Sea Turtle talk.  Our guide showed us the upper shell of a loggerhead turtle.  Biologists estimate this shell was from a turtle that died of natural causes, weighed 250 pounds, and was 60 years old.  The age of a turtle is determined by the size of the sections on the shell.  The shell itself weighed about 15 pounds.
Learning about Sea Turtles
Hoping to see dolphins and manatees, we went on the 90-minute Nature and Sea Life Cruise.  Before boarding the boat we spent about a half hour at the touch tank.  We looked at and/or touched pink shrimp, hermit crabs, whelks, starfish, and other shells.  One little guy, a pistol shrimp, was especially interesting.  A pistol shrimp has one large claw but does not use it to pinch its prey.  Instead, the claw is snapped shut very quickly and forcefully, creating a shock wave which kills the pistol shrimp's supper.  Once pistol shrimp reach a certain size, they cannot be contained in an aquarium because the shock wave will break the glass.  Go figure!  We spent the next hour leisurely trolling through Tarpon Bay.  Apparently the dolphins and manatees were too tired from playing in the morning and were resting during our tour so we did not spot any, but we did see mangroves, pelicans, anhingas, cormorants, and osprey.
A horseshoe crab in the touch tank.  Horseshoe crabs are really arachnids, not crabs.
(The blue stuff is just reflection)
See all the pelicans hiding in the trees?  Do you know what the trees are called?
Our next stop was the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.  Again, this is something we have seen, and even went into the gift shop once, but never went through the museum.  It was a quick tour, about 30 minutes, but we learned things we did not know before.  Did you know that cowrie shells were used in Africa as money?  In 1850, you could buy a chicken for 50 cowries or a house for 4,000,000 cowries.  Did you know that a fighting conch does not fight with other shells, but fights to turn itself over when on its back.  We also saw beautiful Sailor’s Valentines.  These valentines were popular in the 19th century and were made by women in Caribbean ports for sailors to bring home as gifts to their wives.  The valentines were always octagonal; designs in the boxes were made of shells in geometric shapes or flowers and often had sentimental sayings in them.
Watching the fighting conches turn over.
A Sailor's Valentine
The final stop of the day was a dinner at our favorite beach restaurant -- at the end of the road.  Mucky Duck has been feeding people on Captiva Island for 35 years.  Arriving right at 5:00 we had our choice of seats and, of course, we sat at the window overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.  Fun food and fun times.
The Mucky Duck crew!
Trivia (all 1 point)
24.  True or False:  A mangrove is an animal.
25.  What is the upper shell of a sea turtle called?  a.  carapace  b.  exoskeleton  c.  scute

26.  Studies have shown that the temperature of sea turtle eggs determines the sex of the turtles.  If temperatures are cooler, which sex will develop?
26.  The Mucky Duck in Captiva was named for another Mucky Duck restaurant in which country?
Captiva Island beach at the Mucky Duck
(photo taken in April, 2009)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Mote Aquarium

Finally!  We have internet in our condo once again.  I’m ready to start posting again -- we’ve done so many cool things over the past week and I have lots of questions for you!
Yesterday we went to Sanibel and Captiva Islands, but I’ll share that adventure with you tomorrow.  Today we went north 75 miles to Sarasota and the Mote Aquarium.  The Mote Aquarium is a research laboratory, rehabilitation site, and education center near Siesta Key.  Mote has been doing research and rehab since 1955, but opened the aquarium to the public in 1980.  Mote is unlike any aquarium I have ever been to.  Its buildings have no walls, just ceilings, so you flow back and forth between shelter and open area.  The result is a very natural environment.  Also, it was not busy so it felt like we had the place to ourselves.
My favorite sea creatures!

Our first stop was the Immersion Theater.  We played an interactive game against each other as food on the food chain.  Our goal was to eat our prey but not be eaten by our predators.  The winner of the game would be the great white shark.  Evan was the winner and was high-score for all the aquarium.
We walked to another building and saw the sea turtles, dolphins, and manatees.  When these sea animals are injured, by boats for example, they are brought to the Mote for rehabilitation.  One turtle, named Hang Tough, came to the Mote with severe head injuries in 1992.  The turtle is now blind and is fed by hand.  There are two dolphins who are permanent residents at the aquarium as well.  Both dolphins are unable to return to their natural habitats and will spend the rest of their days at the Mote.  These animals were fascinating, but our favorite animals to watch were the manatees.
This green turtle, named Hang Tough, is blind

There are two manatees that call Mote Aquarium home, Hugh and Buffett.  When we arrived, they had just been ‘fed’ -- this means there were 72 bundles of romaine lettuce floating on the surface.  We watched them maneuver their giant bodies gracefully around the tank, grab the bunches with their flippers, and munch them down.  Today’s trivia questions have to do with manatees, or 'sea cows', so I won’t say too much.
This is Hugh
Other highlights of the aquarium were:
•The Touch Tank  (Have you ever touched a sea cucumber?  Aidan has!)
•The Shark Zone (Home to six kinds of sharks, rays, grouper, and barracuda)
We could watch the sharks from above and below
•Sting Ray Pool (Rays are very soft!)
•Sea Horse Nursery (Most aquariums around the country get their sea horses from the Mote Aquarium!)
These sea horses are two months old
The final highlight of the day was panning for shark teeth.  For a mere $6 we could sift through a bucket of sand and keep any shark teeth we found.  All said, we came away with about 60 teeth.
Sifting for shark tooth treasures
Looking for teeth
We plan to return next week so it made sense for us to purchase a membership.  The deal clincher is the fact that John Ball Zoo and Shedd Aquarium offer full reciprocal benefits, so these places are free to us for a whole year.  Yeah!!
Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming....

So are you ready for some questions?  Here they are:

21.  The closest land animal to the manatee is  a) hippo  b) cow  c) elephant

22.  True or False: The manatee was actually the inspiration for the legendary mermaid many years ago.

23.  Which statement is not true?  (2 points)
       a)  Manatees expel a large amount of flatulence.
       b)  Manatees breathe through nostrils, not a blow hole.
       c)  Manatees have no defense mechanisms.
       d)  All manatees live in salt water.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Life Before the Internet

We made it to our condo in Florida last Thursday afternoon.  Within three minutes of unloading from the truck I think Evan had caught two geckos!  We've spent the weekend swimming and snorkeling in the pool, doing school, church, and waiting for the internet and cable to get fixed.  The technician comes on Wednesday.  I'm going to wait until I can safely work on this blog at home before posting again.  You'll hear from me soon!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Patriots Point

Whew.... another busy day today.

This time we spent about four hours exploring Patriots Point, home of the USS Yorktown, the US Submarine Clamagore, and the Medal of Honor Museum.  We have visited many museums and this one is top-notch.  The USS Yorktown was commissioned April 15, 1943 and served in WWII and Vietnam; she was decommissioned in 1970 and in 1975 was towed to Patriots Point in Charleston, SC.  The Yorktown now serves as a museum, but everything about the museum speaks to the fact that she was a war ship -- talk about real-life history!

Our favorite tour was the flight deck and bridge.  We could look at the planes that would be found on a carrier.  The bridge was especially interesting as it offered a bird's eye view of all that happens on the flight deck.  There are two important features that allow planes to take off and land on such a short runway.  The take off mechanism is called the catapult which accelerates the plane in a short distance, and the landing mechanism is the tailhook which slows the plane by grabbing a cable and applying hydraulic brakes.

The flight deck as seen from the bridge.  The lines stretching out in front of the planes are the catapults.
Apollo space capsule replica
The Flight Ready Room

The bridge of the USS Yorktown
Have you ever heard of the Medal of Honor?  It is the highest U.S. military decoration awarded for bravery and valor in action "above and beyond the call of duty."  The Medal of Honor Society headquarters are located on the Yorktown, and is the official Medal of Honor Museum.  The Army and Air Force have their own medals, but those in the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard would receive the Naval Medal of Honor.  Each and every person that has received the Medal of Honor is noted in this museum.  The most recent recipient was awarded (posthumously) his medal on October 6, 2010; his name and information were already on display.  As I read story after story of bravery and valor, I got the chills; this is powerful stuff.  To hear interviews with Medal of Honor recipients, click here.

Partially submerged, docked next to the Yorktown, is the US Submarine Clamagore.  The Clamagore did not see action in WWII, but did serve for 30 years during the Cold War.  She has been on display at Patriots Point since 1981.  Talk about tight quarters!  As we walked the length of the sub we saw the torpedo rooms, crew and officer's quarters, mess, showers, and heads and none of them were very big!  You wouldn't catch me on a "real" submarine for all the money in the world.

US Submarine Clamagore
On-board the Clamagore
The ultimate sacrifice.
Those are not torpedos, those are Atlantic bottle-nose dolphins!

I would highly recommend Charleston as a place to visit.  The history is amazing and truly puts a real "face" to what is in the history books.

We have arrived in Florida and my mom flies home tomorrow.  This has been a fun week with her.  Tomorrow night we will all sleep in our own beds -- it will feel so good.

Marine insignia on floor of Yorktown
Here's today's trivia questions:

18.  This US President served aboard the carrier USS Monterey from May, 1943 to December, 1944.  While responding to an aircraft that had crashed on landing, he lost his footing and was nearly lost overboard.  Who was he?  (1 point)

19.  The USS Yorktown aided in the recovery of which Apollo mission in 1968?  (1 point)

20.  This is a two part question:  a)  How many women have received the Medal of Honor?  b)  How many from the Coast Guard have received the Medal of Honor?  (2 points)