ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



April 18, 2014
At Phipps Conservatory for the spring flower show

Should have blogged in 2013… Part 2

(This is part of a series of things that I should have recorded in 2013 – things which were highlights of the year, but which didn’t get recorded when they were fresh in my mind. Now you mostly just get pictures.)

January 26 – Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Shortly after our trip to Black Rock, I took the girls to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. (It must have been Field Trip Week at the Rainbow House of Learning!) We spent the entire day and had a great time. The bad news is that my pictures are poor. The good news is that my parents gave us a family membership to the Carnegie Museums for Christmas. Expect more pictures!

Middle Daughter was also taking pictures that day. Being the aspiring ornithologist that she is, she took about 70 pictures (yes – 70!) of the museum’s bird collection, including the family favorite – the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Ivory-billed woodpecker

Birdorable ivory-billed woodpecker

Should have blogged in 2013… Part 1

(This is the first in a series of things that I should have recorded in 2013 – things which were highlights of the year, but which didn’t get recorded when they were fresh in my mind. Now you mostly just get pictures.)

January 22-24 – Family mini-vacation

In January, we traveled to Black Rock Retreat (a Mennonite camp in eastern Pennsylvania) for an overnight homeschool program. And since we were in the area, we added stops at the Herr’s Snack Factory, Wilbur Chocolate, a Hampton Inn (because we like staying there and because they had an indoor a pool to test out Middle Daughter’s underwater camera), and the Pennsylvania capitol building.

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Balloons, falling from the sky!

My science nerd experience from last weekend…

Last Saturday was a work day for me. As I was running around Laurelville, I noticed a green balloon caught in the shrubs outside one of our buildings. At first, I thought that it simply had escaped from the birthday party that we were hosting nearby. But as I got closer I saw a tag attached to the ribbon…

Could it be a “message-in-a-bottle” balloon? Yes!

When I was in elementary school, my class launched balloons with messages attached. My memory is that my balloon was rather wimpy and hardly cleared the school roof. I never heard back from anyone who found it. Scarred for life.

But here was a balloon with a message for me to answer. Based on the contact email on the tag, it was launched by a second-grade class in the Nordonia School District. But where in the world is that? I hadn’t a clue. Back to the office for internet research! Science nerd in overdrive!

It didn’t take much effort to find Ledgeview Elementary in the Nordonia Hills City School District. Ledgeview is in Macedonia, a suburb of Cleveland. Google Earth helped me determine that the balloon had traveled 133 miles – more or less along the turnpike, but without the tolls and phantom road construction. Based on distance and typical wind speed, I’m guessing that they launched the balloons on Friday.

The balloon path
This is the direct path from Ledgeview Elementary in Macedonia, OH, to Laurelville. 133 miles.

Well – how cool is that! So I wrote a letter to the class to share my end of the story. Ordinary Spouse snapped a picture of Middle and Youngest Daughters and me with the balloon, and I wrote about some things I liked: hikes, reading, tapioca pudding (echoing the ‘likes’ that one student had written on the back of the balloon tag: sports, games, steak).

The balloon at Laurelville
The balloon at Laurelville

Saturday afternoon, I emailed my letter to the teachers, and on Sunday I heard back from one of them. She told me about what the classes were studying and sent me pictures of the second graders launching their balloons earlier in the week.

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I’m still hoping to hear back from another teacher (whose student who launched the balloon I found). And try to follow this: Tonight I received a message on Facebook from an old acquaintance whose good friend from Goshen College (my alma mater) has a son in the class that launched the balloons.

(And that, dear friends, is how we play the Mennonite game.)

A high-flying field trip

The National Aviary is America’s only independent indoor nonprofit zoo dedicated exclusively to birds. Located in West Park on Pittsburgh’s historic North Side, the National Aviary’s diverse collection comprises more than 600 birds representing more than 200 species from around the world, many of them threatened or endangered in the wild.

When the ordinary family moved from Illinois, we lamented moving away from the Morton Arboretum, especially since we had just renewed our membership for two years. But members enjoy reciprocal privileges from other gardens around the United States – among them, the National Aviary. Yesterday, the Rainbow House of Learning took a field trip to the aviary.

What a wonderful trip for a bunch of bird lovers: five hours of exhibits, shows and bird feedings! I took nearly 250 photos, but you don’t have to see them all…

The greeters

These birds greeted us when we arrived (and sent us on our way at the end of the day).

The wetlands

After the flamingo story time, we visited the wetlands exhibit for the show at feeding time. (We enjoyed the show so much that we went again in the afternoon.) As part of the show, visitors are invited to help feed the birds – a big highlight. Some of the birds of the wetlands…

The rainforest

We had the chance to see another feeding in the rainforest exhibit, although I missed most of it. (More on that later.) But again, beautiful birds were plentiful.

I was especially excited to see the fairy bluebird. Of the non-North American birds, it’s the only one that I’ve seen in its native environment.


The girls looked forward to our visit to the lorikeet exhibit, knowing that they’d have a chance to feed these pretty birds.

I just got distracted by the roll of toilet paper.

Is spring in the air?

In the rainforest and then again in the wetlands, we encountered some birds that were feeling rather… um… “frisky”. First, the male Great Argus wanted to demonstrate to the female just how great he was…

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I took this little video of the ongoing efforts of the male to impress the female. In the process, I missed the feeding of the rest of the rainforest birds (you can hear that in the background).

Toward the end of the video, you can hear a woman say to her daughter…

You know what that bird’s doing? It’s showing off. It’s saying, “Look how beautiful I am. Don’t you want to be my friend?”

I’d have to say that he wants to be “more than friends”.

Later on in the wetlands, the wattled curassow started doing the same thing. We liked the wattled curassow, because he provided some fun pictures.

And then some fun video…

Other notes

The birds gifted me with good luck…

Good luck at the aviary
Good luck at the aviary

I made a new friend. I tried to get his picture while he was on my shoulder, but Ordinary Spouse got a better one…

Of course, when you take 250 photos, you’re going to get some duds. At the aviary, many of them happened when I tried to capture images of feeding birds in flight…

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There was a negative review on Google+ complaining that the aviary was “gross” and had a “predictable smell”, to which I respond, “Get outside much? Ah – no. You have a coat and tie.” My review would be very enthusiastically positive.

This was not our aviary experience.Finally, what makes this the “National” Aviary? It is the largest aviary in the country and was given the “National” designation by congress in 1993. Although the designation doesn’t come with any funding, it does make fund-raising easier. (The effort to become the National Aviary was modeled on Baltimore’s successful campaign to have their aquarium recognized in a similar fashion more than a decade earlier.)

In conclusion…

Birds above:


It’s time to get ready for school! Oh… never mind.

After breakfast this morning, Ordinary Spouse/Home School Teacher went to tell the girls to get ready for school. This is what she found.


As it turns out, school had started without her.


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