Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The rest of our Maryland visit

One of the reasons we raced to Maryland was to make a trip to The National Aquarium in Baltimore before our annual membership expired. We went the day after we arrived, and we applauded the dolphin show, stared at drifting jellies, and fed crickets to the archerfish.

The National Aquarium offers an independent membership, unaffiliated with any other zoos or aquariums. Normally this exclusivity would discourage us from purchasing a membership, but we make exceptions for the National Aquarium and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which I'm hoping we'll visit again early next year. These institutions do what they do extremely well, and they have enough exhibits that we usually take the time to visit them on consecutive days. If we manage to arrange our schedule to get back there just within the year we get even more out of the membership. Our NAIB card expired the day after this visit.

After all the stuff in Greenbelt that I already wrote about, we suddenly had only a week left in Maryland! We moved the camper north to Patapsco Valley State Park and tightly scheduled our last few days.

When I was a kid, my mom would take us car-and-tent camping in both Greenbelt and Patapsco parks, so I love them both. Patapsco has electrical hookups, nice trails and a river, although once again we spent little time in the park, what with all the visiting. One other difference between them is that Patapsco's campground closes for the winter, while Greenbelt remains open year-round.

While at Patapsco, we used one precious afternoon for a family bike ride on part of the BWI Trail, and we spent a little time with some relatives who live in nearby Catonsville.

This past Friday we met still more family in downtown Washington, DC and enjoyed very selective peeks into the National Archives, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum, and the Lincoln Memorial.

Saturday we enjoyed a festive family Oktoberfest with about 30 of my closest relatives. We filled up on weisswurst, sauerkraut, potatoes, beer and homemade pies, and we cooed at the new baby in the family. Sunday we enjoyed what felt like a very short day at the Maryland Renaissance Festival - the weather was perfect for wandering about munching turkey legs and drinking cider, laughing our heads off at the outdoor shows, and watching the thrilling action in the jousting arena.

We're exhausted, and we know we missed so much in Maryland this time around. But we'll be back next year, if we keep to our rough plans. For now we're heading south for the winter!


I'm finally getting around to writing about our four-week stay stay in my home state, and we've already moved on. We know so many people and have so many favorite places in Maryland that we were busy most days. We were also grounded by the flu as four out of five of us grappled with it (Joe was the lucky one).

Here's what greeted us when we pulled into Greenbelt National Park at the end of September:

Needless to say, we didn't use the hiking trails. But that was okay -- the days we stayed home were perfect for campfires or (on rainier days) games, reading, and drawing. Greenbelt doesn't have hookups of any kind, so Joe worked out a practical battery use-and-charging cycle for the new rig.

Joe and I bought new bicycles at Proteus Bicycles in College Park, and he rode his in the biking leg of the 4th Annual International Greenbelt Triathlon. This event involves running twice around Greenbelt Lake (2.6 miles total), riding 8 miles to Franklin's Brewery, and quaffing two pints of any carbonated beverage. We all cheered the participants and I got a t-shirt, because I loved them so.

If anyone's wondering, in the end Karl was the only one of us who fed the notorious chiggers and he also briefly hosted one nymphal deer tick. He has recovered.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Walking with Suzy

Last Sunday Billy and I walked with our friend Suzy in the Susan G. Komen Maryland Race for the Cure. Billy had gone to sleep before 6pm the night before, and I was afraid he was coming down with something and not likely to walk. But he woke up early, ready to go.

It was the coldest morning since we've been in Maryland, and we broke out the long sleeves, long underwear, hats, and umbrellas. We saw ice on some cars as we drove north to Hunt Valley for the walk!

It was easy to find registration and check in, despite the thousands of participants. Billy and I pinned on numbers, and Suzy added a sign to hers that said "I walk for my mom." Suzy and many of those people we were walking with never get a break from breast cancer -- its direct and indirect effects (and its looming threat) are felt every day. Optimism in the face of that was the overwhelming emotional climate on Sunday. We spotted lots of teams walking in memory of the deceased or in support of survivors. Survivors wore pink numbers, and it was heartening to see them surrounded by their families and friends.

We walked the 5k in just about an hour, moving ahead through the loose pack of walkers. We were cold, and our pants legs got wet up the back, but we kept each other smiling. Afterward we went to Caribou Coffee for coffee and hot cider.

Special thanks to those of you who donated to the Maryland Race for the Cure. Some of that money goes to the costs of the race, and some goes to national research grants and local education and outreach. We look forward to the advances that the scientific and medical communities will make to continue to reduce and possibly eliminate deaths from breast cancer in our time.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Illinois to Maryland

(back to the trip journal)

The rest of the way to Maryland was relatively uneventful. We motored up a mountain in Kentucky to stay at Carter Caves State Resort Park. It was pouring down rain when we got there, and we buzzed past the visitor center. There seems to be plenty to do there if the weather's nice and you're in the mood for exploring.

We're still learning how the new rig combination works, as far as backing into campsites. We can't just drive up and park at any old campsite, unless we happen to find a long, unoccupied pull-through site (this hasn't happened yet -- these might be imaginary). The trailer itself is as long as our old motorhome, plus we have the long-bed crew-cab truck that pulls it. Only the longest sites accommodate the combination *and* leave a spot for the minivan. Reducing our selection still further is the maneuverability of the rig around pavement corners, trees and other obstacles.

This park was our biggest challenge yet, with the added quirk of water and electrical hookups being unpredictably placed among the campsites. Aside from the random setup, it was a well-groomed campground with very nicely graveled sites (the paved pull-throughs were all full).

Somehow we managed to keep from arguing through this difficult parking job in the cold rain. As soon as we were parked, connected, and ready to get cozy inside, the rain stopped. We congratulated ourselves, took a walk, and crashed for the night.

In the morning, the sun was shining through the trees, and we couldn't really ask for a more beautiful mountain forest to wake up in. But this time our eagerness to get back on the road trumped the tug of nature. We left this park relatively unexplored and made a beeline for Maryland, stopping overnight at a Wal*mart in Virginia.

Monday, October 12, 2009

One of many teachers

A little over a year ago the boys visited their aunt Gina in her pottery studio. She showed us around and we admired her work and that of others who work and learn at the pottery studio in the Greenbelt Community Center.

She got out some clay and quickly "threw" a pot to show them all the steps.

Then she helped them make a bowl together, working for a few minutes with each of the boys at the wheel.

She also gave each of them an extra little bit of clay to work with, and they eventually took turns at the wheel with their little blobs.

I had never seen Gina teach. I was quite impressed with her patience and the way she chose words and actions that were particularly helpful while still giving each child the satisfaction of doing it himself. I had heard from others that she is a really good teacher -- I can see why they say that.

The bowl they made was set up to dry, and Gina later glazed and fired it. We're back in Greenbelt for a few weeks, so Gina presented to the boys the final product, the work of their eight hands. It's a lovely little bowl.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A few steps, a few dollars, a new experience

My best friend walks each year in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Baltimore, Maryland. She lost her mom to breast cancer when we were in high school, so this disease has had a huge impact on her life, as it has on the lives of many women and their daughters.

This year I decided to walk with her, since I'll be in town when it's going on. While I was discussing the family schedule with Joe, Billy asked if he could go with me. After I explained to him what it's about and what it involves, he was enthusiastic about participating.

We don't plan on making a big deal out of raising a lot of money, but we'd be happy to be the conduit for a few dollars toward breast cancer research and education in Maryland. I hope it'll be a positive experience for Billy, and that he'll want to do more charity awareness, outreach and/or fundraising events in the future.

If you'd like to sponsor Billy with any small amount, you can go to his personal donation page.

We'll be sure to report back here about the event.