Field Trip Wars – Round Three…or the One Where H-T Nearly Bought It

Did I mention in my last post that we were on vacation for TWO days?  Well, that means that there was still one entire blog post to be squeezed out of that little excursion. 

On our second day of rest and relaxation (ha!), we headed into the edges of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the Visitors Center/Farm Museum just happened to be hosting a Mountain Life Festival that day.

There were demonstrators everywhere, dressed in period clothes from early Appalachia, and doing everything from making sorghum molasses to blacksmithing something or other.

Ok, so maybe I’m not necessarily an expert in Appalachian history, but I do recognize an outhouse when I see one.  R-T couldn’t wait to look inside to see if they had an old Sears & Roebuck catalog in there…


There wasn’t, but R-T was still amused.  It doesn’t take much.

We all got sort of wrapped up in our different areas of interest on the old restored farm.  Uber was fascinated by the antique organ (he has recently begun taking piano).

I was entertained watching someone besides myself slaving over a hot stove (woodstove, that is).

and R-T was thoroughly fascinated by watching whatever it is they do in a blacksmith’s shop.

But we had all sort of lost track of H-T.  We figured he was having a blast immersing himself in history.  Meanwhile, we checked out the barn, watched some primitive wood planing, and read up on the sorghum making process.

092     088


However, we still hadn’t seen hide or hair of H-T.  Then finally, we all spotted him at once, happily stripping down sugar cane to prepare it for the sorghum, that would be churned by a bridled horse connected to a makeshift churning wheel.

If you look closely at the picture above, you will notice that H-T is eyeing the horse.  That is because at precisely three seconds after this pic was snapped, the horse suddenly decided it didn’t want to be bridled and connected to the churning wheel, so it reared up and came within about one foot of clocking H-T right in the head!!!  I’ve never seen a kid move so fast.  His lightning-quick reflexes seriously saved that kid from lasting neurological damage. 

It took me about an hour to recuperate from the “what-if” scenario. It took H-T about thirty minutes.  The horse?  Ah, he was fine and dandy in about five minutes, and churning that molasses as pretty as you please. 

It really teed me off.  I wanted to sidle up beside that hot-headed equine and give him a piece of my mind!!  But all’s well that ends well, I suppose.

And even though I could’ve – – just to make things EXTRA competitive for Firefly Mom – -  I refrained from taking a picture of the pile of horse poo.  (Heck, I even refrained from taking a picture of MY poo following the horse incident).

That’s just the way I am.  Always playing fair.

Field Trip Wars – Round Two

Firefly Mom really pulled out all the guns for her last homeschool field trip, and even got a picture of a big old pile of bear poo.  I threw up the white flag on that one.

But I wasn’t daunted for long.  I secretly knew that I had a two day mini-vacay coming up that included two full 24-hour-periods of educational goodness.  That getaway took place this past weekend, and I feel that I just might have this next round in the palm of my camera-happy hand!

I had heard through the grapevine that the five main Southeastern Native American tribes were coming together to celebrate their culture and arts in the Cherokee reservation that is located less than two hours from home.  And oh what a celebration it was!

There were displays of every possible kind of native craft including basket-making, dream-catchers, blowguns, corn-husk dolls, slate art, masks, and gourd art.  H-T was especially taken with the antique bow and arrow collection, and Uber took his time poring over the tomahawks.

The night schedule of activities at the Fairground was slotted with Tribal Dancing Competitions, so we had some time to fill before then.  We headed a few blocks south of the fairground to take in the sights and sounds at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.  This was compelling combination of static and interactive displays about the history of the Cherokee, and I’ll admit that by the time we got to the part where the Cherokee chiefs traveled all the way to England to plead for a treaty of peace between themselves and the European settlements, I was boo-hooing like a lost child in a department store! 

I seriously barely made it through the Trail of Tears display!!  Such injustice!!!

Thank goodness the night’s festivities were a lot more upbeat, and included some great competitive dancing fun between the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes.

I won’t share the X-rated commentary my hubby was giving during this dance called “The Beaver Catcher”.  But I was seriously LMAO throughout the whole performance (probably NOT the reaction they were hoping for!)

H-T even got to get up on stage when they asked for volunteers for a dance called the “Tick Dance.”  He was on cloud nine the rest of the weekend after getting to shake his groove thing with some true Native Americans!!

But the weekend wasn’t ALL steeped in history…we made plenty of nature-based memories as well.  You’ve probably already heard me brag plenty of times of all that our Western North Carolina mountains have to offer, but here is some more pictorial proof….










I’m thinking that Firefly Mom is quaking in her field-trip planning boots, right about now…

Learning and Lollygagging

My buddy, Firefly Mom, who blogs over at Pack of Hungry Snails is BIG on field trips.  If you ever had feelings of inadequacy about not doing enough homeschool field trips, then I BEG OF YOU not to frequent her blog, because you’ll basically want to hang up your homeschool uniform, take your bat and ball, and go home.  She does field trips like her life depends on it!!

Us?  Not so much.

Well, until now that is.  Thanks to our recent foray into unschooling, we aren’t tied to Uber’s online school schedule anymore, and we can gallivant all over creation whenever the urge strikes us.  AND our new homeschool support group is big on field trips, so our fall schedule is already packed with things like visiting a chiropractic office, spending an afternoon at a horticulture center, and park days galore.

Nowadays, I have my ears and eyes on “Eagle Alert” for any and all field trip opportunities.  For one, because I’m making up for lost time.  And for another, because Firefly Mom has been a monopoly for too long.  It’s just not good for America if she doesn’t have some honest competition.

So today, we headed down to Chimney Rock.  Chimney Rock is a 1000-acre state park boasting attractions like a 400-ft. waterfall, a nature observatory, interpretive trails, and a 500 million year old monolith that sticks out like a chimney and provides one of the most spectacular views of a mountain gorge you will ever have the privilege to see!

Today, Chimney Rock was hosting one of their monthly homeschool days, and we were determined to take part.  The theme was Nature Journaling, which interestingly enough has been one of Uber’s latest passions. 

After assembling their nature journals with paper, sticks, and twine, the group headed toward the woods to do some observation, sketching, and practice with descriptive adjectives.

There was PLENTY of nature to interact with.  Trees, flowers, boulders, and a handful of live critters too!

I guess watching live critters makes us Topsies hungry, because as soon as we finished with our class, we headed up the mountain toward the chimney, and even better – – the Chimney Rock Cafe!  This was the view from our lunch table…

Tuna salad, nachos and cheese, and pizza by the slice was just the fuel we needed!  We had plenty of energy for our climb up to the chimney…

where we saw even more of the beauty of this clear September day in Western North Carolina…

Then it was time to put our hiking boots on and head out for Hickory Nut Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the state.  I’ve lived here basically my whole life, and had NEVER visited this waterfall, so I was bound and determined to get there today!

It did NOT disappoint…

The long hike was taxing…especially because summer decided it wasn’t quite done with us, and it was 85 degrees in the park today.  But we made it!  ( I could give away the fact that we had to recuperate about 10 minutes longer than the 80-ish-yr-old  looking couple that got to the falls just ahead of us, but that would be embarrassing, so I’ll just keep that to myself)


Last thing on the day’s agenda?  Grabbing some of the best ice cream in the world at the Chimney Rock ice cream parlor, and taking it down by the river, to soak our tired footsies and reflect on how awesome this unschooling thing really is!


Take THAT Firefly Mom!!

That’s What She Said

I can’t say I’m a regular viewer of the show “The Office.”  I’ve probably seen maybe four or five full episodes, and maybe snippets of at least five more.  But the characters and the catch phrases have become part of the current culture, so that even if you have never viewed a single episode, you still might have a good clue as to who “Jim and Pam” are, or be able to respond to a general statement with the thinly disguised sexual innuendo: “That’s What She Said.”

I got to experience a little of THE OFFICE life myself this week as I headed down to Ft. Lauderdale to visit the headquarters of Time4Learning – – the company I have been contracting with for theTime4Learning Logo last few years.  Time4Learning CEO, John Edelson, invited me down to see how things work on their end, and because many of their different websites and programs are aimed at homeschoolers, he thought it was a good idea to let the employees get some face time with a long-time homeschooler who could give them the beef about exactly what is up with us strange folk.  😉 

So…I headed down to the Sunshine State prepared for some heat, humidity, and some invaluable experiences.  And I got a lot of each!  I discovered that in FL in the summer you are always on the run.  You RUN from your air conditioned house to your garaged car, then RUN from your air conditioned car to your air conditioned office, then you RUN from your air conditioned car to your blazing hot car, which you desperately try to air condition on your way back to the comforts of home.  You MIGHT spend five minutes or more of time outside IF there is a pool involved.  Otherwise, you simply sit by the air conditioner until October and hope for the best. 

Since I’m normally quite an out-of-doors addict, you would think this would have been a problem for me, but the folks at Time4Learning made me feel so welcomed, and were so thoroughly awesome, that I barely paid attention to the sweat filling up my bra each day (hey, I’ve always wanted to try one of those water bras, anyway!)

I have no idea if anyone’s office is like the one portrayed on television, but if even 10% of America’s offices were like the one at Time4Learning, we would have the world’s happiest work force.  This was an amazing team of people who have an incredibly diverse group of talents, and work together like a professionally oiled machine while still remaining upbeat, cooperative, and friendly. 

I was wined.  I was dined.  I got to work near some of the greatest visionaries in educational technology today.  And I even walked the beach. 

It was a BIG deal.

That’s what she said.

Visual Learners and Beached Whales

I think I’ve blogged about the fact that H-T is a visual learner.  He is actually a visual AND kinesthetic learner, but I think the visual part may take precedence.

So I’m always looking for great learning tools for the visual learner, and I happened upon one this week that I wanted to share.  It’s called, and the idea behind it is collecting all the free educational videos for kids and teens online and lumping them into one searchable directory. 

Now tell me, is that a great idea or what??!!

They also want people to join so they can inform them of videos they may have missed.  So if you have a visual learner around your house, this is a website you definitely want to check out and possibly join yourself. 

In other news, I’m flying out this weekend to Florida for several days on a business trip. 

Yes, I AM going to Florida at the end of July, and no I’m NOT a glutton for punishment.  That is just when they needed me.  So, bring on the heat and humidity…I can take it!!  (maybe) 

Sun & Water 1 Hey, they do have beaches down there, and don’t think I won’t be trying to sneak onto one.  If you happen to live in the Sunshine State, and hear warnings of a beached Albino whale sighting, pay it no mind.  It’ll just be my not-yet-skinny VERY Anglo-Saxon self perched on a beach towel and hoping to blend into the background.

I’ll post some pics from the land of the sweltering sun if I get a chance!


Looking for a Tour Guide?

The Topsies have company!  In what is an absolutely appropriate turn of events for a tech-geek, Uber developed a relationship with one of his classmates at the virtual reality school he has attended the last couple of years.  He and she became really close over this school year and began “dating” online sometime after the holidays.

I’ve watched in awe and fascination as her name came up in conversation over and over again, and he seemed to know as much about her as if she had grown up next door to him all his life.  This online dating is an interesting thing because the constant conversations that are required to maintain it mean that the dating couple probably get to know each other far better, at least in some respects, than couples who live in the same town!

Anyway, this young lady lives approximately four states away, but her mom was willing and eager to drive the ten hour trek from her state to ours and bring her for a week-long visit so these two could finally meet in person.  And that has been the excitement of the summer for Uber and the rest of the Topsies!

Because they have never visited NC before, we have had the most wonderful time showing them around our waterfalls, small-town shops, and mountain overlooks.  As if I didn’t appreciate the beauty of our area enough, it has been incredible seeing it through the eyes of folks who usually breathe only the smoggy air of the big city. 

I find that the Topsies have a talent I was unaware of until now…tour guides, extraordinaire!  We have so much pride in our natural beauty here that I guess it just spills out of us as we lead our guests through the paces of mountain life. 

So if you are struggling to come up with your next vacation spot, I have an inside source on a personalized tour.   For the right amount of flattery, I’ll put you right at the top of the docket for the next round of official “Tours With The Topsies!!”

Leaf Peeping

Sunday, October 12, 2008.

It was one of those perfect afternoons.  The kind you wish you could hit the “Pause” button on.  The weather was between 60-65 degrees, and a jacket felt just right. As we headed further and further up in elevation, the sights were getting more and more spectacular.  I was tempted to pull out my camera and just start shooting pics right from the car window, but I’ve tried that before, and my impatience wasted disc space and got me some crappy blurred photos.

So I waited.  And it was worth it. 

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the colors in the Blue Ridge Mountains quite as brilliant as they were yesterday.  They say on the news that a drought brings out more pigment in the trees.  I believe them, and am thankful there is at least one upside of this stupid rain famine. 

None of us were prepared, though, for what we were going to see as we got up around 5000′ elevation.  I’m not kidding when I say that the colors almost hurt your eyes, they were so vibrant. 

Words can’t possibly do this trip justice, so I’ll share some of our pics.  I wish you guys could’ve been there…

(click any picture to enlarge)

Leaf Peeping 004   On our way up.  Close, but not there yet…

Leaf Peeping 005 ooh la la

Leaf Peeping 010 view from our hike

Leaf Peeping 015   R-T and H-T

Leaf Peeping 018   the peace brothers

Leaf Peeping 020  God’s paintbrush

Leaf Peeping 028  my kinda background

Leaf Peeping 039  picture perfect….

Needless to say we have plenty of material for our computer wallpaper for a while.

A Nice Place To Visit, But I Wouldn’t Wanna Live There

I’m referring of course to Las Vegas.  Sin City.  Entertainment capital of the World.  What happens there, stays there.  You know the one.  Well, Uber and I went.  We experienced.  We played.  And we returned.  And although for him, it was the “trip of a lifetime”, for me, I would have to say it was a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t wanna live there. 

And here are my reasons:


Yes, this is the general landscape of the area around the city of Las Vegas.  It is interesting.  For about a day.  Compared to Vegas, my yard looks like a rain forest. 







Yes, I know that is supposed to be a PLUS, but even though they are something to see, you get two calluses and a bunion just walking from the front to the rear of one.





               BUDGET?  WHAT BUDGET?

See that building mid-strip that looks like it is only about half finished?  Know what it has already cost to build?  Several Billion smackers.  Yep.  I said Billion with a ‘B.’  And that is with at least two years more to go before it is finished.  Unless they are planning on fitting all the homeless and refugee people in the world in there, I’m thinking that might be going a smidge overboard.






So there you are, just walking along peacefully through MGM Grand Resort and Hotel, when suddenly you look up and realize there is a lion butt above your head.  And I kid you not there was a huge crack in the glass just to the left of him.  I mean I enjoy a good lion as much as the rest of them, but if they are going to come raining down, butt and all, on my head, I’d like some kind of siren to go off beforehand, kay?





Las Vegas is incredible.  I mean, here you are in Sin City one minute and the Big Apple the next.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, but if I had known Vegas had warp-holes that let you travel across space and time, I would’ve ordered my Spamalot tickets ahead of time online. (Yes, I have my Clay Aiken moments.  Don’t judge me.)





I love foreign accents.  And we heard every possible one through our daily strolls down the Strip.  But once in a while, you would pass by some weird looking out-of-towner who just gave you the creeps.  I kept looking back at this guy, just to make sure he wasn’t packing plutonium under all that blue terrycloth.






To say I was flabbergasted and appalled would be an understatement.  Everywhere you turn in this city, someone is actually wagering money.  I covered Uber’s eyes so much that he got a handprint shaped sunburn on his forehead.  The very idea of allowing such goings on in a public place!!  (Obviously I won zilcho.  Sigh)




So we took a tour of this place called Hoover Dam, and it was so big it blocked all the scenery.  They should really do something about that.  Our government dollars wasted again.  Geez.




So, as you see, Las Vegas is a terrific site for a vacation, but I wouldn’t plop down any good money for real estate there.    I just don’t completely trust a place that let’s their polar bears out of the zoo just to pose for photos with tourists and has plants that actually hurt when you try to touch them…..










Jet Lag + First Day of School = OMG squared

tired Look who’s back!  After an overnight flight on which I got about one hour of sleep, I got back home yesterday at a little after 10 a.m.  I would not be exaggerating to say that I spent the rest of the day and night in bed, and no, R-T doesn’t have an extra spring in his step today.  The majority of that was spent catching up on some much needed z’s. 

But I’m definitely still lagging today as we start our first official day of homeschool for the year.  I’m pretty sure that when the airport locates my brain in their lost luggage pile, they will send it along, and everything will get into a groove.  Until then, well, let’s just say we will be winging it a bit.

Thank goodness for cyberschools!  Because of Time4Learning and 3DLearn, at least the majority of lesson planning is taken care of.  Uber is so psyched to find eight or nine new kids in his class this year, and social butterfly on steroids that he is, he has been busily “working the room” trying to get as much info as possible on each one (read: figure out which ones will be IM-worthy) since this morning. I LOVE the social aspect of 3-D Learn, and it is such a perfect fit for my geek-socialite.

H-T, ever my comedian, started out the day on a fun note.  As we sat down for Morning Prayer (we are Episcopalian and do Morning Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer each morning before school), the following conversation took place:

Me:  So.  Here we are.  Starting out our new school year.  Welcome to 7th and 9th grades, guys!

Uber:  I am so excited that today is the first day of school!  I can’t wait to get started.

H-T: (staring with utter confusion at his brother). Uber, you know, those bangs of yours hide your lobotomy scars really well.


Yep, it’s back to school at the Topsy-Techie household.  How is school going for everyone else? 

p.s.  Stay tuned for a picture post from my Vegas excursion…as soon as Delta sends over my lost brain, I will be right back up to speed, I promise!


WISH it worked for me Wednesday

I love the Works For Me posts over at, but since not much ever works correctly around the Topsy-Techie household, I thought I would talk about what I WISHED worked…

Case in point: Using my son’s Wii Remote as an All-Purpose Remote Tool    

Thanks to a blogging buddy’s Teaching and Learning Spanish blog, I discovered some really neat uses for the Wii Remote today.  This one is particularly cool for teachers and homeschoolers:

So I got to thinking that with my Wii remote, my bad-self techie skills, a couple infrared dots, and some duct tape, I ought to be able to save the planet.  Now don’t get me wrong…the Wii remote in our house isn’t gathering dust, or anything, but surely it could be put to better uses than just helping H-T defeat jungle monsters in the latest Lego Indiana Jones game.  My ultimate goals for the Wii remote would be to:

  • Virtually clean the toilet bowls.  I’m thinking that a couple of infrared dots where the Tidybowl man hangs out ought to do it.  Then I would just swish that remote in a circular pattern, and voila!  Sparkly johnnies!
  • Virtually retrieve the mail – – especially on rainy days.  One dot on the front door of the mailbox, and one on the flag, and I should be good to go.  Although those Wii remotes can be pretty sensitive sometimes.  I would hate to overshoot and pick up my bachelor neighbor’s girlie mags by mistake.  That one might need some tweaking.
  • Virtually water the plants – – .  I love, love, love, my houseplants, but I tend to forget about them when they aren’t making a lot of noise.  Squeaky wheel and all. I mean I never forget to water the dogs, you know, cause they sorta make this moaning, whiny sound when they get dangerously dehydrated.  But the plants?  Well, I’m sure they whine and moan too, but non-advanced human that I am, I can’t usually pick up on it.  So my ideal Wii remote gadget would include a timer, and a virtual waterstream from my sink to the plants, because I also can’t be bothered most days to find the watering can.  Do you think infrared dots do any damage to live plants?  Gosh, I hope not.
  • Virtually write my blog while I am away.  Yep, Topsy-Techie will be traveling to Nevada tomorrow, and won’t be back till next week, so I could really use that Wii remote to digitally post for me while I’m away.  What’s that you say?  My blogging software already lets me schedule my posts while I’m gone??  Hmph. That is not nearly as cool. 

Be thinking of you from Vegas, ya’ll.  I promise that if I hit it big while I’m out there, I’ll split my earnings with everyone who leaves a comment on this post.  So comment away…