Monthly Archives: August 2012

Experience 21 of 52: Spirit Cruise Sightseeing Tour of Baltimore

The five of us enjoying our adventure

Spirit Cruises in Baltimore offers a wide range of cruises from the Baltimore Inner Harbor waterfront. We enjoyed a sightseeing cruise that included a 75 minute narrated tour and we were not disappointed because it highlighted some of the places we had visited over the past year (even before our 52 in 52 adventure began), including:

Besides seeing these attractions from a different angle, we refreshed on many nautical terms, some of which were repeats from our previous experiences:

  • Bow and stern – the front and back of the ship
  • Port and starboard – the left or right side of the ship
  • Forward and Aft – the front/back of the ship
  • Galley – the kitchen on the ship
  • Brig – the jail on the ship

Kate with the tugboats named after her 🙂

A few other things we learned or events we participated in:

  • The body of water that is in the Inner Harbor is the Patapsco River
  • The gals learned that the “Key Bridge” is named after Francis Scott Key and sits close to where it is believed Key observed the battle of Fort McHenry and penned the Star Spangled Banner.
  • We refreshed our knowledge on buoys which we originally learned at the Nauticus Museum in Norfolk on a previous experience: “Red, right, returning”.
  • The gals learned about tug boats and their purpose.  We even saw some with a big “K” (for Kate?) on the side.
  • The gals also enjoyed a visit to the “wheelhouse” where the captain was navigating the boat.
  • The gals enjoyed a bit of dancing.

Time Spent: ~3 hours
Cost: This trip was free for us but would have cost $52

In the Wheelhouse

Dancing the Cotton Eyed Joe

Sun setting over Ft. McHenry

Returning to Port


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Experience 20 of 52: Cirque du Soleil, Drailion

Instead of even trying to do it justice, Cirque du Soleil, Dralion is best described by its website description:

“Fusing the 3000 year-old tradition of Chinese acrobatic arts with the multidisciplinary approach of Cirque du Soleil, Dralion draws its inspiration from Eastern philosophy and its never-ending quest for harmony between humans and nature. The show’s name is derived from its two emblematic creatures: the dragon, symbolizing the East, and the lion, symbolizing the West.

In Dralion, the four elements that govern the natural order take on a human form. Thus embodied, each element is represented by its own evocative colour: air is blue; water is green; fire is red; earth is ochre. In the world of Dralion, cultures blend, Man and Nature are one, and balance is achieved.”

The show was incredible – if you’ve never been to a Cirque du Soleil show it is as impressive a display of human acrobatics that I could ever imagine seeing.  We loved the fusion of east and west and the dragon representing the east melded well with Grace’s Chinese Culture camp she attended earlier this summer.  Grace even recognized a few of the Chinese symbols emblazoned on the curtains during the show.  The girls were engaged during the entire show and they were enthralled by the beauty and the artistry.

What did we learn?  We learned that Cirque du Soleil means “Circus of the Sun” and, even though it seems eastern to us, it is actually a production of a Canadian company.  We also learned about balance and harmony and we talked about the implementation of these concepts, along with color, as they apply to art to tell us a story.  Finally, we discussed what it takes to perform in such a show: opportunity, hard work, dedication, determination and focus.

Our favorite acts were the trampoline and the juggling because the trampoline looked awesomely fun and the juggling was just simply amazing.

Time Spent: ~4 hours, including dinner
Cost: ~$250, including dinner in downtown Baltimore (and we even purchased the “cheap seats”)

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Experience 19 of 52: Washington Monument State Park

When you think of the Washington Monument you immediately think of the “pencil building” in Washington, D.C don’t you?  But there’s another Washington Monument in Washington Monument State Park near Frederick, MD.  The site includes a small number of group camp sites, a quaint museum and a short hike to the monument.  The museum was under construction but its temporary location features some interesting items including weapons used by the Confederate and Union soldiers, uniforms and many artifacts that were found in surrounding farms throughout the years.

There was a room in the museum dedicated to George Alfred Townsend, a Civil War journalist whose estate became what is now Gathland State Park, located about six miles from Washington Monument State Park.  Mr. Townsend wrote under the pen name “Gath”, hence the name “Gathland”.

Seeing the civil war weapons also taught us about the “caliber” of a gun.  We learned that caliber refers to the approximate internal diameter of the barrel.

The hike to the Washington Monument was about a quarter of a mile to the top of a hill.  The trail along the way had signs outlining George Washington’s life which reviewed many of his accomplishments.  According to the official website, here’s the story of the monument:

“Washington Monument State Park is named for the first completed monument dedicated to the memory of George Washington. The Washington Monument is a rugged stone tower that was initially erected by the citizens of Boonsboro in 1827.  According a period newspaper account, on July 4, 1827 at 7 a.m., most of Boonsboro’s 500 inhabitants assembled at the public square. Behind the Stars and Stripes and stepping spiritedly to the music of a fife and drum corps, they marched two miles up the mountain to the monument site. The citizens worked until noon and then held a dedication ceremony and lunch. They resumed work and by 4 p.m. the monument stood fifteen feet high on a 54-foot circular base. The day ended with the reading of the Declaration of Independence and a three round salute fired by three Revolutionary War veterans. The workers returned that September to finish. Upon its completion, the monument stood 30 feet high.”

We climbed the spiral staircase to the top of the monument and were rewarded with an amazing view.  It became quite clear to us why Union soldiers would utilize the monument during the Civil War as we observed how we could see stretches of land for miles and miles.  Even though it was a hazy day we could see parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, the Frederick airport and White Tail Ski resort.

Time spent: About 1.5 hours
Cost:  Free

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Experience 18 of 52: Baltimore Orioles Baseball Game

The Baltimore Orioles are experiencing their best season in 15 years.  We had a fun, exciting evening at Oriole Park at Camden Yards that culminated in a 5-3 victory for the hometown team.

Watching from behind the left field wall, we had an opportunity to discuss some Baltimore Orioles history as well as explain some of the nuances of the game.

  • We visited the sculpture garden featuring larger-than-life bronze sculptures of the greatest Orioles of all time: Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver, Frank Robinson and Eddie Murray are currently represented. Cal Ripken Jr. and Brooks Robinson will be added on future dates.  We had read about these same folks when we visited the Baltimore Sports Legends Museum during a previous experience. 
  • We learned about Jackie Robinson becoming the first African-American Major League baseball player because we noticed that his jersey number 42 is retired by all teams in baseball. This led to a discussion about discrimination and how we interact with folks who are different from us.
  • We discussed nuances of the game such as how the infielders position themselves based on the batter at the plate and the art of base stealing.

And, of course, we loved celebrating the scoring of runs, dancing to “Y.M.C.A”. and, most of all, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”.

Time Spent: ~3 hours
Cost: About $100, including food and parking

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Experience 17 of 52: Outer Banks, North Carolina

OB Olympic Balloon Tossing Event

This Outer Banks in North Carolina provide numerous opportunities for family life experiences.  During our visit this year we experienced many outdoor activities that were both relaxing and fun:

  • We kept an eye on the Mars Curiosity Rover as it arrived and landed on Mars.  It includes the names of Grace and Kate on a microchip that is on the back of the rover
  • We watched some of the 2012 Olympics and the girls enjoyed the “Outer Banks Olympics” with their cousins and friends as the participants.  Grace won gold in both the archery and gymnastics events while Kate won the gold in the Uno event and a bronze in the gymnastics event.  Thanks to cousin Meg and her boyfriend Bryan for organizing.
  • We visited with 2 long time family friends that happened to be vacationing at the Outer Banks during the exact same week we were there.
  • We crabbed off the pier and caught several crabs.  Unfortunately for us but fortunately for them, they were too small to eat.  We learned that crabs enjoy raw chicken necks and tying them to the end of a string or rope allows you to pull them up while they’re eating the chicken.  A second person uses a net on a long pole to try to scoop them up.

    Grace pulling up the line while Kate readies the net

  • We fished off the pier but had no luck with catching anything.  The girls ended up “adopting” a few of the worms as pets for a few days.  They loved to hold them and get their hands dirty.
  • We kayaked in the Albemarle Sound with Grace, for the first time, woman-ing (as opposed to “manning” ;)) her own kayak
  • We caught a Tree Frog and talked about what he’d like to eat
  • We caught a turtle and kept him as a pet for a couple of hours until he had to do his “business” in the plastic tub we were keeping him in.  We decided that a turtle was a bit too messy to have as a pet.
  • We spent some time at the beach and the girls did some limited boogie boarding (the waves were a bit rough), got up close with a jelly fish (Grace unwittingly touched it with her fingers) and we built our version of a sand castle (really a sand pit – a large hole in the sand big enough for a couple of us to sit it).
  • We ended our trip with the girls using money they had saved to purchase 2 hermit crabs they affectionately named “Hermes” and “Zeus” (we’d read Perseus and the Lightning Thief earlier this year and also remembered the Greek gods atop the dome of the rotunda that we visited earlier during this journey).  We’ve learned about their habitat and their living requirements and have created a home for them as our newest family pets (to go along with Emily the beta fish and “C-C” the cat.

    Kate casting

  • We also had family time with the extended family completing a very challenging puzzle of a Vincent Van Gogh painting and playing the fun game of Nerts.

Although we love the sound of the waves crashing ashore, we love the opportunities to fish, crab and kayak on the Albemarle Sound side of the Outer Banks.  This experience allows the girls to enjoy the roar of the ocean and the serenity of the Sound.

Playing Mancala and being silly

Time Spent: ~7 days
Cost: Dependent on where you stay

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Experience 16 of 52: Virginia Air and Space Museum

Paul, Grace and Kate in front of the Apollo 12 Command module.

The Virginia Air and Space Museum, located in Hampton Roads, VA was another museum that provided a nice mix of exhibits and hands-on experiences for the gals.  Upon entering the museum, one of the first things we encountered was the Apollo 12 Command Module.  We looked at the model of the 3 stage Saturn V rocket boosters that launched it to the moon and imagined what it must have been like for the astronauts who were on the mission and walked on the moon.  We learned that two astronauts went to the surface of the moon in the “Lunar Module” while the third astronaut remained in the “Command Module”.

In addition to the Apollo 12, there were additional spacecraft models and an “Exploring the Moon, Mars and Beyond” exhibit.  This exhibit included planetary models, moon rock, mars rock and Mars exploration rovers.

In addition to spacecraft, the museum also has aircraft on display.  We enjoyed seeing a replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer because we had visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial a few years ago while visiting the Outer Banks – both Grace and Kate remembered exactly what this was!  We were also able to sit in the cockpit of a DC-9 Passenger jet – Grace as the pilot and Kate as the co-pilot.  They must have done this before in a past life because the ride was as smooth as I’ve ever flown ;).  Finally, Grace learned how to direct a pilot using a Kinect type simulation that was monitoring hand signals as directed by a computer simulation.

One of the coolest exhibits I’ve seen at any museum was a large model (probably 10-12 feet long and a couple of feet high) of an aircraft carrier that was contained in a display case.  The exterior of the case had sliding display monitor screens that, when slid along the side of the carrier, would show images of what the internals of the aircraft carrier was like.  I found this to be a very creative way of showing a “beyond the hull” look at the ship.  I wish I had taken a picture of the display because it was very well done.

The museum also had an IMAX theatre but we decided to spend our time checking out the exhibits.

Time Spent: About 3 hours
Cost: $42 for the four of us

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Experience 15 of 52: Jamestown Settlement

The Jamestown settlement became the first permanent English settlement to be established in North America.  We visited the settlement on a quiet, humid afternoon and were not disappointed.  The Jamestown National Historic Site provided a sense of the life within the first permanent colony.

Starting at the Visitors Center, we first viewed a movie about the establishment and hardships of the settlement.  We learned about the Powhatan Indians, John Rolfe and Pocahontas and the how tobacco helped to save the colony.

After the Visitors Center we walked through the wetlands and spotted several turtles, a snake and several deer.  We entered the partially re-created settlement and were able to walk around as if it were our colony.  We learned that the settlement location was not the first spot the colonists landed but the spot was chosen because of the deep waters that allowed all 3 ships carrying the settlers to be tied to the nearby trees.

We thoroughly enjoyed visiting the “Archaearium” that held numerous artifacts that had been discovered at this historical site.  We were enthralled by the actual skeleton of one of a young man who had been shot and killed during the time of the settlement.  We talked through the exhibit and learned how archeologists came up with their hypothesis that the man was young (because of his bone density and structure) and that he was most likely shot by someone else (because of the bone scatter pattern that would have been created by a weapon of the period from a specific distance).  We also read about currency in the colony and learned that the most expensive item a person could own was a bed.

This was a visit that we all enjoyed.  It’s well worth a trip if you’re in the area.  Take your time, enjoy the history, and imagine what life must have been like in Jamestown in 1607.

Time spent: Over 2 hours (without a moment of boredom :))
Cost: $40 for the four of us

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Experience 14 of 52: Naval Air Station Oceana

If you haven’t noticed, our weekend to Virginia Beach, VA to visit my sister involved military themed experiences.  We are lucky enough to have LTJG Rebecca Anderson as our sister/aunt and she was kind enough to give us a tour of Naval Air Station Oceana from where she serves her country.  The base is the US Navy’s Master Jet Base and is home to almost 300 F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet strike fighter jets.

Getting up close and personal with the jets was an awesome experience.  We were able to see the size of the jets, learn a little about the parts of the jet and we even met one of the pilots. 

We learned the following:

  • The jets at the base are maintained mostly for use on Aircraft Carrier missions
  • Because the runway on an Aircraft Carrier is so short, the jets are catapulted off of the carrier
  • The “tail hook” of the jet is used by the jet while landing on a carrier.  The tail hook “hooks” one of three cables to help stop the jet.
  • The “intake” on the jet allows for air flow into the engine
  • The F/A 18 includes a seat for a pilot and a seat for a weapons system officer
  • A “hangar” is a large building used to hold aircraft in storage
  • The head-gear worn by the crew while working around the F/A 18 is called a “cranial” and provides head protection for the flight team
  • A “pylon” is a part of the aircraft that is used for mounting external equipment (such as fuel tanks or weapons) to the aircraft

This experience was most enjoyable for us because it was personalized by my sister.  Although you may not be able to get as up-close and personal as we were able to, according to the Naval Air Station Oceana web site daily base tours are available to the public.

Time Spent: ~2 hours
Cost: Free (but the Daily Base Tour would have cost us $46 for the four of us)

That’s the tailhook!

Grace as Executive Officer (complete with a finger mustache)

Kate as Commanding Officer (complete with a finger mustache)

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Experience 13 of 52: Nauticus Museum

The Nauticus museum in Norfolk, VA is at the top of the list of our favorite places we’ve visited with the children.  The museum had so many hands-on activities for the children to do that we didn’t want to leave.  An exhibit on the Panama Canal discussed the use of locks to move cargo ships through the canal.  This fit well with our previous visit to the Cumberland Visitor Center and its exhibit on locks and their use on the C&O canal.

In addition to the refresher on locks, we learned:

  • The “bow” and “stern” of a boat are the “front” and “rear” of the boat
  • The right side of the boat is called the “starboard” side and the left side is called the “port” side
  • Buoys are color coded to assist boaters: “Red, Right, Returning” means the red buoy should be on the right (starboard) side of the boat when returning from open seas.  The opposite is true for green buoys.

We also had a chance to do the following fun activities:

  • Kate was able to touch a live Brownbanded Bamboo Shark fin by reaching her hand into the “Shark Experience” exhibit
  • Grace built a submersible remote-controlled robot and tried to drive it to collect rings that were scattered in the pool of water
  • We withstood the 80 mile an hour hurricane force winds in the “hurricane simulator”
  • We toured the Battleship Wisconsin, one of the largest and last Battleships ever built by the U.S. navy.

I am sure my write-up hasn’t done this museum justice.  I highly recommend a visit and I would be more than happy to visit the museum again on a future visit to Norfolk.

Time Spent: 3 hours
Cost: ~$50 for 2 adults and 2 children

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Experience 12 of 52: Naval Station Norfolk

Naval Station Norfolk provides facilities and services to the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.  We visited the Naval Station with LTJG Rebecca Anderson who is stationed nearby and works at Naval Station Oceana (a future post covers a tour of this base).  During the tour we were able to get up close with several Destroyers and Amphibious Assault ships.  An Aircraft Carrier was on its way into port but we missed touring it due to time considerations.

We learned the following:

  • Amphibious Assault ships have a hull designator beginning with LH
  • Destroyers often act as parts of carrier strike groups and are used for both offensive and defensive actions
  • Destroyers have a hull designator beginning with DD
  • The United States Merchant Marines is a civilian organization that engages in the transportation of cargo or passengers for the U.S. Military.

Because we had an escort we were able to take a tour of Naval Station Norfolk.  I am unaware if tours or visitors are permitted without an escort.

Time Spent: About 1 hour
Cost: Free

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