ordinary… mostly

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


Rainbow House of Learning

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

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:


Today’s homeschool stories

Today, I arrived home to a meal prepared in the style of the Plymouth pilgrims by Oldest Daughter. As the father, I had been moved to the head of the table, which was a bit jarring, since I’m a creature of habit. Ordinary Spouse sat beside me, and the children had to sit “below the salt”. So we were all in the “proper” order.

Oldest Daughter prepared a menu and small rule book so that we’d know what to expect. The meal consisted of:

  • Succotash stew
  • Bannock cakes
  • Whole, baked squash stuffed with apples
  • Bearberry jelly
  • Hot nuts (walnuts and almonds)
  • Flat bread “plates”

And our rules included:

  • Do use a clean knife to get salt.
  • Do use your hand instead of a fork.
  • Don’t scratch itches.
  • Don’t dip your food in the salt.
  • Don’t get your own food. (This is for children.)

There was a little verse to help the children remember the rules:

Put not thy fingers in the dish,
Neither in flesh, neither in fish.
Put not thy meat into the salt,
Into the cellar, that is a fault.
But lay it fairly thee before,
Upon thy trencher, that is good lore.

– The Little Children’s Little Book

We had the hot nuts for dessert. I found a Valentine nut…

Valentine Walnut

Valentine Walnut says, “I love you.”

And now that supper is finished Middle Daughter and Ordinary Spouse are reading about Babylon, Hammurabi, and his code – not because MD didn’t finish her schoolwork today, but because she wanted to do some more.

That’s the news from the Rainbow House of Learning for today. Now I have to go clean up the succotash stew. I wonder if the Pilgrim fathers would have done that…?

Cambodia, part 1 – Getting there

It has been three weeks since my blog proclaimed that the ordinary family was on its way to Cambodia. Even though I had composed that particular entry the day before, it turns out that it was pretty accurate in announcing our departure. However, what preceded our departure was (at least in retrospect) somewhat amusing…

About an hour before we were to leave, we got a phone call from Mr. Guest Complacent (my brother-in-law) in Cambodia. He talked to my wife, so I didn’t get the whole conversation, but he said something like…

Well, it’s like this… When are you arriving here?

And in the background, Ordinary Spouse could hear Mrs. Guest Complacent and my mother-in-law (who had traveled there a few weeks earlier) laughing.

It turns out that they thought that we were arriving one day later than our actual plans. But when they read my “Countdown to Cambodia… 16 hours” blog post, they realized that they should probably double-check our itinerary. It’s a good thing, too. We would have arrived with no contact information and no way of knowing where to go. In hindsight, perhaps that wasn’t the smartest way to travel. Nevertheless, we got things straightened out and off we went.

And boy – did we go in style!

The administrator at my work place made a transportation reservation for me: a ride to/from O’Hare Airport with the company that we use for business travel. Little did I know that when they work with groups (six of us went to the airport and seven came home) the company uses stretch limos. I had just assumed that they would send a van.

You should have seen my daughters’ eyes when the limo pulled into our court…

The limo

The ride awaits!

We dubbed our ride “The Rainbow House of Learning school bus”.

We made it to the O’Hare in good time and settled in to wait for our flight. Activities included climbing, reading, and playing farkle.

Ready for an on-time departure

O'Hare play equipment

Playing farkle

Ordinary Spouse and I had never traveled with all three girls before, and we were pleasantly surprised when a Korean Air employee approached us shortly before boarding and invited us to the front of the boarding line. Thanks, Korean Air! That made getting settled into the plane much easier.

KAL Family Care

Speaking of Korean Air, they were the carrier-of-choice for the duration of this trip. Both to and from Phnom Penh, we had one stop at Incheon International Airport near Seoul. And one stop is much better than when Ordinary Spouse and I visited Mr. Guest Complacent ten years ago, the first time he lived in Cambodia. Back then, we flew from Detroit to Chicago to Los Angeles to Tokyo to Bangkok to Phnom Penh. Whew!

The Chicago-Seoul flight is roughly twelve hours – a bit longer if you’re westbound, since you fly into a headwind, and a bit shorter in the opposite direction. I was aware that the shortest flight path might not be readily apparent (since it’s on a sphere), and it turns out that the quickest way to Seoul is to first fly far to the north…

Chicago-Seoul, part 1

That white line is the “straight” path. Our actual flight path initially took us more to the north – over the western edge of Hudson Bay – before turning west and passing over the north edge of Alaska, essentially where the line indicates. In other words, we flew over the arctic. And when we arrived in Cambodia later in the day, we had been in both the arctic and the tropics in a single day.

As our flight turned south, we passed over Siberia and China, but then something interesting happened…

Flying into Seoul

Again, the white line is the “straight” path. But it certainly wasn’t the path that our plane took. Shortly before reaching the China/North Korea border, the plane veered west… and stayed well out of North Korean airspace. Hmmm… I wonder what that was all about?

Anyway, we made it to Seoul, not in the greatest shape due to a messed up sleep schedules, but glad that we were most of the way there…

Ordinary Spouse trying to rest while she can

(Ordinary Spouse with blurry eyes.)

Sleep or take it all in?

(Middle Daughter is much too distracted to rest.)

After a short layover, we were on our way again – the final leg from Seoul to Phnom Penh. Unfortunately, I had something new to worry about – pictures for our Cambodian visas. My father-in-law (who was traveling with us) asked if we had them ready. No, I said. We didn’t even realize that we needed them. This was another example of how not to travel, but there wasn’t much to be done until we arrived in Phnom Penh, so I tried not to dwell on it.

Finally after a full 24+ hours of travel on sporadic sleep (I think I got a total of four hours in two different installments), we arrived in Phnom Penh. Local time: 10:30 p.m. Current temperature: 29° C (84 °F). Relative humidity: something insanely high. Time to start acclimating.

Immigration was our first stop, and we quickly found out that the penalty for not having pictures was that Ordinary Spouse and I would have to pay $5 each* to have the pictures in our passports scanned. Ok – I wasn’t going to quibble with that. I was actually quite relieved. In addition, our visas were $20 each, and the girls’ visas were $5 each. After transferring $65 to the Kingdom of Cambodia, we were on to baggage claim, through customs, and then out the airport doors.

* US dollars are accepted nearly everywhere in Cambodia – at least, I didn’t go anywhere that I couldn’t pay with them. The local currency is the riel. The conversion rate is 4000 riel = $1. I have a hunch that the simplicity of this conversion, along with the fact that every vendor uses it, has helped to peg the riel to the US dollar. The exchange rate has fluctuated between 3800 and 4200 riel to the dollar for at least the last ten years.

Immediately outside the doors, we were met by a mob of people. Some of them were waiting for family and friends; some of them were moto/taxi drivers waiting for passengers; and perhaps some were just there to watch. I was expecting this, since it was the same way ten years ago. The girls, however, didn’t know quite what to do with this. It may have been craziest for Youngest Daughter – light-skinned young children are something of a novelty. When she walked outside, people were openly staring and pointing at her. It wouldn’t be the last time.

However, The Guests Complacent were there to meet us, and they swept the girls away to a van that was waiting to take us “home”.

Arriving in Phnom Penh

(Here we are shortly after arriving. Note the clock in the background.)

And that pretty much wraps up the opening chapter of this story. The girls got to sleep around midnight. OS and I got to bed at around 1:30 a.m. (which was 12:30 p.m. Chicago time).

Next up: Acclimating in Phnom Penh (which I’ll provide as soon as I can get it typed up!)

Countdown to Cambodia… 20 days

As the Rainbow House of Learning prepares for its global field trip, I’m posting updates, links of interest, and so on. I know that you’re curious about my big news of the day…

I placed a hold on our mail for the days that we’re gone.

Exciting, huh?


During our trip, we’ll have the chance to see a bit of the work that Mennonite Central Committee is doing with the people of Cambodia. For those of you who are interested, check out MCC Cambodia on WordPress or Facebook.

The Rainbow House of Learning goes global!

The countdown is on! In three short weeks, the Rainbow House of Learning sets off on a two-week field trip to Cambodia to see the Guests Complacent and Extraordinary Nephew. Our itinerary includes days in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Mesang, and Kompong Som. By now, most of the vaccinations have been received, and the packing and to-do lists are being written.

Stay tuned for more!

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