Saturday, June 26, 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

In which I run away to become a Naturalist- long

Last October I met Rudy Mancke at a science teacher convention. He totally changed my life - seriously. Through high school I HATED biology- I hate body systems, and microscopic junk, etc. So when I met Rudy I was impressed with his enthusiasm but the extreme depth of his knowledge was phenomenal. That man knows every plant, bird, animal, insect, fish and shell. It took us 45 minutes to cross a lot in Myrtle Beach because he had something to say about everything. I thought of my students and how I teach ecosystems (and other topics), and thought they deserved someone who really knew that material in depth. So I signed up for a Master Naturalist class through Clemson to try to put together what I already know about the great outdoors. Turns out..... I actually know more than I thought about the natural world.
This week our class met on Pawley's Island and stayed at Belle Baruche's Hobcaw Barony. This woman grew up on a plantation there, bought more land when it was handed down to her, and then left it to USC and Clemson both for environmental scientists to study. It has tons of acres of long-needle pine forest, and a STUNNING estuary which is very protected and pristine.
The first day (Monday) we arrived at 8:00, and took off to Lewis Ocean Bay and stomped around the forest. We were on the look out for bears (only saw the scat) as well as began the process of plant identification. I enjoyed it, but was looking forward to the afternoon period where we were supposed to go to Brookgreen Gardens (one of my FAVORITE places) but we didn't make it there because of some big thunderstorms. I was bummed, but we made it out to dinner (after hunting in the woods for Red Cockaded Woodpeckers - which I think I actually saw on the way out) and got to know each other.
These are the very cool pitcher plants in the forest.
And these are the pretty neat Sun Dews growing close to the ground.

On the second day (Tuesday) things got very exciting for me, because I love estuaries and marshes. We drove out to the shore, and met up with Jen an environmental scientist who works out there. She had us walk out on the dock and do some water experiments (the old school way - since now everything is done my computers), and then we toured the science facility. Graduate students, and environmental scientists stay out here to do their research, for periods of time. She grabbed some nets, and buckets and we went over to the edge of the estuary. On the way out we were identifying plants, learned about salt panne, hermit crabs, and wrack (with a w).

We did some Seine netting (I have video, but don't feel like dealing with youtube tonight) and caught fish, crabs, shrimp, etc in the net and then identified the various species in the net. That was TREMENDOUS fun, and I need to find out if people can still use seine nets for non fishing purposes. The most fun was sinking into the pluff mud up to our knees, and looking for crabs and oysters.

Here I am with pluff mud (I had already attempted to clean it off) on my boots. That stuff is deep, and stains everything. The guy in the white shirt below had us scoop up handfuls and put our handprints (or boot prints) on his shirt - that will probably NEVER come out.

We drove around to a fire watchtower, climbed it and looked at the amazing views, and enjoyed the absolute peace around us. While waiting on the ground for the others, another teacher showed me that some of the limestone on the car path had fossils of shells and urchins in them, so I collected a bunch of samples for my kids, and my students.

We ended the evening with dinner with other Master Naturalists who had previously taken the class. It was great to learn about the projects they lend their time too, and I think it was pretty smart to bring teachers into the program. Most of the others were retired from various different non-science jobs (real estate, etc) and I'm glad they do the work they do, but I will be able to pass it on to the kids.

On the third day (Wednesday) we drove down to Bull's Island. It was used as a hunting preserve back in the early 1900's but now is a protected wildlife refuge/ barrier island. We were supposed to do bird watching, which honestly was not on my list of things I wanted to learn about. Simon, a bird expert from Asheville, NC and his enthusiasm was contagious. I didn't think I would be standing there like my classmates seemed to be able to do for hours:

I very much appreciate, and can identify shore birds, but preferred the plants and obvious landscape of the uninhabited island - and I need to keep moving. Our boat captain was late, so we checked out shore birds, and the birds in the trees around the parking lot. I learned to appreciate the skill involved in identifying those LBJ's (little brown jobs - what I want to call all little birds in trees). We eventually got to the island and saw beautiful plants - totally natural to SC.

When we landed we saw live oaks with palmetto trees growing right next to them. We spent a lot of time watching a beautiful painted bunting, I was amazed at the lengths people go to see a bird, but I would probably do the same thing for an awesome insect, or cool tracks.

Speaking tracks - as we walked along the dikes out toward the beach, we were constantly stopping for birds (mottled ducks, indigo bunting, etc) and plants, but my total appreciation were for the above tracks of a gator that dragged itself through the mud and off into the marsh. Wish I could have seen him to see how big, but I'm thinking not too big of a guy (kind of narrow tracks).

So, this caught my eye, and I'm touching it (and getting pricked) and observing how stiff the flower casing and petals are, and I ask - hey Karen (our Clemson Ph.D) what is this thistle thing? "Why Kelly," she answered, "that is a thistle." Oh, okay. I still liked it.

Then we made it to the coastline and with NO ONE else on the island, we all ran to the ocean and jumped in (because it was H-O-T). We saw HUGE Horseshoe crabs lying on the beach, and these loggerhead turtle tracks. There is always a naturalist (from the program I'm in) who walks this beach every couple days to look for them. Only 1 in about 10,000 will survive to make it back to the beach to nest, so they are very endangered. The tracks below show how she crawled up on the right side, dug her hole, laid her eggs, and then headed back to the water on the left.

In the picture above Karen is pointing out the disturbed sand where she (turtle) buried her eggs.
Karen works in my district teaching preschool, and was selected for the Teacher to Ranger program at Congaree. She and I are going to be GOOOOOD Friends. I am totally ready to go canoeing and kayaking with her - now have to figure out how to get the kids in boats.

After lots of wandering we headed back to the boat for the ride back, and were escorted by a pod of 6 or 7 dolphins. I'll post video of that tomorrow.

I LOVED this experience, and look forward to sharing my information with students, as well as identifying more things around me (like the hairy woodpecker on my porch today). I am definitely going to make more opportunities to hike and explore with my kids too.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Respite at the lake

We headed for the lake this past Father's Day weekend.

The kids kicked around.....

Maggie finally went swimming. She usually just walks in and stands there, but she hates when the kids are doing something without her....
We just generally goofed around.

Monday, Brian took off work to watch the kids while I got to go on my adventure that I'll post about soon. A very relaxing weekend - exactly what we needed.

Friday, June 18, 2010

More service

Today a few of my girl scouts got together and unloaded a uhaul full of cookies at the VA hospital. Blondie and Cheesie wanted in on the action too. Some unload, some stocked the closet.

Afterward back to our house so we could cut up sheets and towels to be used as cloths to wash animals covered in oil in the gulf. Thankfully no one cut off anything.... major..... using the rotary cutter. You know how people usually complain about teenagers..... not these girls. They are awesome.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

God Bless the U.S.A.

I've said this before, but I LOVE my girl scouts. Yesterday I got an email from another girl scout leader that she needed girls for a deployment of sailors going over to the middle east. The girls were needed to hand cookies out to the soldiers for their long flight, and as a morale boost. So, if you've ever been asked by a girl scout if you want to donate a box of cookies to the soldiers this is what happens to all of those donated boxes.
I had initially thought to only take Big Al (T-Rex was thinking she wanted a break from scouts), but when I mentioned it at dinner last night Blondie and Cheesie asked if they could go too since they were scouts. Well, of course. At the last minute today T-Rex decided to come as well, and I'm glad she did. Blondie decided, on her own, to start coloring a bunch of pictures for soldiers, and by this afternoon had about 25 or so to hand out - they said things like "you're my hero", etc. We arrived at a hangar near the airport and joined a bunch of people setting up tables. The blue star mothers, VFW, VA, Boy scouts, and even Harley riders showed up to support the men and women about to deploy. We had four busloads of soldiers coming in before they got on their plane, and before they left they walked around to the tables, grabbed a bunch of goodies, called home one last time, ate pizza and donuts, and relaxed a bit. Some tables had food, others handed out decks of cards, or used paperback books. One group created these dolls called Dang-It dolls for soldiers to take out their frustrations on (the girls were interested in learning to make those). The girls handed out bags, and tried to get the soldiers to take a bunch of the cookies donated by our city.

At first the soldiers were reluctant and wanted to donate money to the girls, but the girls got out there and explained the program, and how when they sell cookies people donate money and boxes specifically for soldiers. Eventually we made sure just about everyone had a box or two. The men and women were incredibly nice, and thanked the girls again, and again for just showing up.

Blondie kept handing out her pictures, and I was so proud of her because she came up with it on her own, and carried it through completely. This picture shows the soldiers talking to her about it. T-Rex was excited to meet a Medal of Honor recipient, and the whole group took a picture with him (I don't have it yet). My mom also showed up to take pictures, so I'm hoping to have another post with more to show.

I can't tell you enough what an uplifting evening it was. All of my girls were thrilled to be part of it, and it showed them first hand how grateful folks are for their hard work. It was VERY hot tonight, but even the little girls hung in there for about 3 hours. Think about calling your local VFW to find out about a deployment in your area - it was wonderful to participate.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Update on Blondie

If you read the Rasmussen's blog you know that a few weeks ago Blondie's left leg started shaking. We had never seen anything like it, and were nervous that her seizure may be back - either through a connection left behind, or they were somehow now on the left side of her brain as happens to some of the kids. Up until that day we chose to believe that Rasmussen's was behind us, but that leg shaking (which has occurred several times now, as well as her arm) really threw me into a tailspin. It honestly took me right back to that first day of seizures, and the weight of reality kind of overwhelmed me for a bit.

Today (Tuesday) we did an MRI to find out if there actually was seizure activity going on, or if it was more likely clonus (repetitive muscle twitches). We realized over the weekend that Blondie was incredibly anxious about the whole thing despite our best effort to downplay everything. Turns out the poor kid was equating going to sleep for the MRI with how animals are "put to sleep." This is not a term we use, but she has heard it before, so the poor kid was worried about not waking up. She was, of course, also worried that she would have to have brain surgery again (much scarier for an 8 year old, than a 3 year old). In the hospital she did a fantastic job of getting the IV, and trying to remain calm. I knew she was scared to pieces (when they called her name she walked VERY slowly). Afterwards she was very tired, but wanted to eat (it was 2:30 and she hadn't eaten since 6 a.m.) so I took her to Red Robin, and then home to watch TV in bed. She took a few naps, but is generally in good spirits because it is over with.
Are seizures possible? Yes, some kids get seizures back after years of being "s-word free." Some kids have to have redo surgeries (some have undergone several redo's - although not for necessarily for Rasmussen's).

Those of you that know me, know that I tend to be a little strong-willed, so I have totally decided that this is clonus, not seizures. She is alert during the shaking, and it doesn't last long. It was unnerving to see her hooked up to machines today, and in a hospital bed, and we won't know the results for a few days, but I'm diagnosing clonus. And that's that.

Finally starting to unwind

Every summer teachers across the country take a week or two to just try to relax. I think I'm finally there. I've decided this will be our laziest summer ever.... unfortuantely the kids are not with me on it. They are bored because I'm not planning huge adventures.

The girls tried to turn on the sprinkler system but one of the heads is messed up so they had to find something else to do. They finally alleviated their bordom when they found some water balloons and figured out how to fill them up when the nozzle thingie didn't work. Then they started their own games, and finally just resorted to throwing them.

I'm sure I'll hear how bored they are tomorrow too. They'll just have to figure it out - without the TV. Maybe in another week I'll be up to getting them out and doing things.... we'll see.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

5th grade promotion

This is an incredibly busy week, but T-Rex faced a big milestone Wednesday night. We celebrated the end of elementary school and her promotion to middle with a graduation style program.

She has grown so much this year we had to buy a new dress, and quite honestly she is between the little girl type dresses, and the teenager type thing. We tried to go with something in the middle, but when I saw her all accessorized, and ready to go she looked so grown up.

As a teacher I was on the stage watching, and was very proud of T-Rex and all of the kids. She received the Presidential Educational Excellence Award for grades, and will be attending the same magnet middle school as Big Al. We are really starting to look forward to summer.