Friday, October 14, 2011

Letterboxing - An Educational Adventure

Letterboxing is a hobby that has gained a recent resurgence in popularity. And while the particular aim is to locate and record the finding of small hidden boxes, it can be quite a learning adventure, too. You never know what you will learn or uncover when you set out to find a letterbox. It is the ultimate "learning on location" activity - art, history, science, nature study, and geography are just some of the subjects you might encounter.

As the Letterboxing America site states, "Letterboxing is an intriguing pastime combining navigational skills and rubber stamp artistry in a charming 'treasure hunt' style outdoor quest. A wide variety of adventures can be found to suit all ages and experience levels." It combines elements of orienteering and puzzle solving. Letterboxers hide small, weatherproof boxes in publicly-accessible places and distribute clues to finding the box in printed catalogs, on one of several web sites. Individual letterboxes usually contain a notebook and a rubber stamp. Finders make an imprint of the letterbox's stamp, on their personal notebook, and leave an impression of their personal stamp on the letterbox's "visitors' book" or "logbook" — as proof of having found the box and letting other letterboxers know who has visited.

The origin of letterboxing can be traced to England in 1854. A Dartmoor guide, James Perrot, placed a bottle for calling cards at Cranmere Pool on the northern moor at that time. He included his calling card so future visitors could contact him and leave their own calling cards. The tradition continued through the years. The modern variation of today's letterboxing is a great activity to pursue while you are traveling. It takes you to quaint off the beaten path locations and attractions you likely would miss otherwise. It's also a fun local adventure. You will often find bits of local history or lore you weren't aware of, experience new places to explore, and see familiar locations in a new light. Examples of places we've visited while letterboxing include the following.

You could learn about the geometry of bridge design and see one of the last eight pegram bridges left in the US (which ironically had been relocated here from my mom's hometown - she remembered it!)

In additon to finding the letterbox, you could accidently stumble upon some exciting nature find in the area - like a bull and cow moose. Had we not been off the interstate route, we would not have seen them.

You might be lead to some quirky small town art exhibit or have a chance to watch the night flight of a massive colony of bats emerging from under a bridge where they roost.

And you don't have to rely on finding boxes that are already placed. Anyone can create and hide a letterbox for others to find.

Figure out some location that might have some artistic, scientific, historical significance to your area and plant a letter box there. We have planted several including a series of boxes where my relatives live - along the Oregon Trail. It's a chance to learn more about a location in your area as well as share it with others who might happen upon the box in their adventures.

Some websites that offer information on how to get started letterboxing along with lists of clues for individual letterboxes by state can be found here.

Letterboxing North America
Atlas Quest
Letterboxing Info

You never know where a letterbox clue will lead you or what you might learn...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Arlington National Cemetery

As Veterans Day approaches it is an opportunity to remember those brave men and women who have served our country and protected our freedoms, some paying the ultimate price n the process. Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington VA, just outside of Washington DC is the final resting place of service men and women from all the wars since the Civil War. There is a lot of history literally buried there. It is a place to honor, remember and explore.

The Veterans Day National Ceremony is held each year on November 11th at Arlington National Cemeter . The ceremony commences precisely at 11:00 a.m. with a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns and continues inside the Memorial Amphitheater with a parade of colors by veterans' organizations and remarks from dignitaries. The ceremony is intended to honor and thank all who served in the United States Armed Forces.

If you have an opportunity to visit Arlington National Cemetery, you can take a guided bus tour through the massive 624 acre grounds or take a walking tour on your own. Travelling on your own you can visit some of the more obscure, less visited historical gravesites, while the bus tour enables you to cover more area in a shorter time with stops at the main attractions including the Tomb of the Unkowns, President Kennedy's grave and eternal flame, and Custis-Lee Mansion. There is an average of 27-30 burials there each day, so there is a good chance that you will happen upon one during your visit. It is a sobering sight, to see. The cemetery is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Check for hours.

Arlington: The Story of Our Nation's Cemetery by Chris Demarest is an engaging picture book that covers the history of this hallowed ground. Having visted the cemetery in 2007 with the family, reading the book when it was published last year, made the stories and importance to our country seem even more alive. So if you don't have a chance to visit the cemetery you can experience a virtual visit and a well written history in Demarest's picture book.

On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington Antional Cemetery by Robert Poole is a more detailed book about Arlington, for high school students or adults.

Of course a field trip to Washington, DC is not feasible for all of us. So put it on your list of places to visit sometime and in the interim there are many national cemeteries around the country you could visit as well. The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains 131 national cemeteries around the country. The Department of Interior, National Park Service maintains 14 national cemeteries. Check and see if there is one near you that you could visit on Memorial Day or Veterans Day (or any day of the year for that matter). It is an opportunity to remember and pray for the veterans who have died, to explore a cemetery, study the architecture, and immerse yourself in the history and heritage of your area and our country by learning about those interned.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reading List for Asia (The Far East)

General Resources

The Silk Route: 7000 Years of History by John Major

The Empty Pot by Demi
The Five Chinese Brothers
The Great Wall by Elizabeth Mann
Growing Up in Ancient China by Ken Teague
The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert
Made in China: Ideas and Inventions from Ancient China by Suzanne Williams Ming Lo Moves the Mountain
The Road Home (movie)
To Far Places: The Story of Francis X. Ford by Eva K. Betz
The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese
Tikki-Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel
What's in a Chinese Character? by Tan Huay Peng


The Jungle Book, Kim and others by Rudyard Kipling
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (set mostly in London)
Saint Francis of the Seven Seas by Alfred Nevins


Count Your Way Through Japan by James Haskins
The Samurai and the Tea: A Legacy of Japan’s Early Christians by Cathy Brueggemann-Beil Hokusai: The Man Who Painted a Mountain by Deborah Kogan Ray

Movies: Ikiru, The Seven Samurai, and others by Akira Kurosawa


A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
The Philippines

Island Hero: The Story of Ramon Magsaysay by Marvin M. Gray


Anna and the King (movie - high school/adult)
Dawn From the West: The Story of Genevieve Caulfield by Margaret Rau


Peak by Roland Smith
Seven Years in Tibet (movie - high school)

Reading List for Africa

General Resources
2000 Years of Christianity in Africa: An African Church History by John Baur

Saints of Africa by Vincent O’Malley, C.M.

Africa (DK Eyewitness)

King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry

King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

African Holocaust: The Story of the Uganda Martyrs by J.F. Faupel, MHM [Paulines Africa]

Belgium and Congo
King Leopold’s Ghost by Joseph Conrad – Chronicles King Leopold II’s rule of terror over the Congo.
Heart of Darkness and Other Tales by Joseph Conrad – Historical fiction set in 1890’s Congo.

Congo and Zaire
Bakanja by Aldo Falconi, SSP

Left to Tell and Our Lady of Kibeho by Immaculee Ilibagiza (adult)

Bakhita: From Slavery to Sanctity

South Africa
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Sahara Desert
The Little Prince by Saint-Exupery

Born Free, by Joy Adamson

Mogo's Flute by Hilda Van Stockum
Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivoli (picture book)
Thunder Cave by Roland Smith

Friday, October 7, 2011

Milwaukee County Zoo (in Winter)

Last weekend we bought our first ever Milwaukee County Zoo Pass. We got the impression from previous random visits (hadn't been there in about four years) that the zoo was well-designed for winter as well as summer visits. We were not disappointed. Really the only downside aside from, yes it was rather chilly (about 20 degrees out), was that the signs in the outdoor viewing areas were caked with snow. We didn't know the details of what we were looking at. But it was still pleasant to walk around and see animals like these... DSC_2111 ...even if we didn't know *exactly* what they were called or where they were from. I could picture these as being from some place like Mongolia. The swans were breathtaking and the ducks and geese seemed in limitless supply. DSC_1986 This guy cracked us up. Is this how all the herbivores became extinct? DSC_2083 The indoor viewing areas were fabulous. We visited the primate house (where, believe it or not, there was a bridal show going on!), the big cats house and the aviary. Incredible!!! A penguin on timeout? DSC_2071 A thoughtful gorilla? DSC_1977 Checking out the cheetahs... DSC_2144 Everyone's favorite lion... DSC_2127

The Getty Villa, Malibu, California

Playing Statues:
DSC_5899, originally uploaded by Chez VH.
The Getty Villa, in Malibu, California, is a replica of the Villa of the Papyri, uncovered in the excavations at Herculaneum (a lesser-known neighbor to Pompeii, also buried in the same volcanic eruption). It's a museum that specializes in antiquities from Greece and Rome and also features an amphitheatre (we had some fun playing with the acoustics there), a lovely children's program and beautiful gardens. There is no admission fee, but you have to make reservations ahead of time and they do charge for parking. Not a bad deal on the whole! We were only able to take the four younger kids as Ria was visiting Thomas Aquinas College and Gus was golfing with his cousin. We had a lovely visit and especially enjoyed the "Family Forum". Shadow Art:
DSC_5949, originally uploaded by Chez VH.
This is a picture of Frank posing for a neat shadow art thing in the "Family Forum". There were lots of different backdrops and foam props to play with. Treasure Hunt!
DSC_6022, originally uploaded by Chez VH.
Everyone loved the Treasure Hunt of artwork that included neat little trading cards. It made them want to absorb every detail of the pieces that were included in the kids' materials. What a great concept! Color-Your-Own Greek Vases:
DSC_5958, originally uploaded by Chez VH.
This was a clever project from the Family Forum at the Getty Villa using dry-erase markers. One More from the Getty Villa...
DSC_5909, originally uploaded by Chez VH.
because we found him so amusing. The inscription below this bust reads:
Bust of a Ruler This may be a portrait of Seleukos I Nikator (ruled 312-280 BC), founder of the Seleukid dynasty in Syria. Reproduction of a Roman bronze sculpture from the first century AD found at the Villa dei Papiri, Herculaneum.