Experience 42 of 52: Girl Power

The Applied Physics Laboratory hosts an annual expo to introduce girls to the possibilities that exist in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers.  Although our girls are still a few years away from choosing fields of study, and the event was geared towards middle and high school girls, we decided it was never too early to see what STEM can do for you.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?  So, prior to her last game, we left Grace’s soccer tournament to attend “Girl Power”.  Although initially disappointed in leaving the tournament, Grace quickly overcame her dismay once we arrived at the expo.

The event was packed with girls engaging in STEM activities and we will definitely be coming back each year!

The highlights included:

  • A 30 minute, engaging science show
  • Building the tallest tower possible using ~30 straws and a few inches of tape (Grace’s tower came to 85″)
  • Catching balls from the basketball shooting robot built by the Atholton High School Robotics Team
  • Exploring the science of magic
  • Learning about a spectrometer
  • Wearing a clean suit as if you were working on building a satellite
  • Completing math puzzles

The girls so enjoyed the experience that we were one of the last families to leave and we essentially had to pull the girls away from the activities!  We certainly learned that it’s never too early to see the wonders of science and to start planting seeds of awe and wonder at the possibilities that learning, questioning and experimenting open to you.

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Experience 41 of 52: Geocaching

As best described by geocaching.com, “GEOCACHING is a free real-world outdoor treasure hunt. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smart phone or GPS and can then share their experiences online.”

The advent of geocaching is a pretty cool story best described here.

For this experience we used a GPS device to locate 3 different hidden treasures located in the Eldersburg area.  The first cache was magnetized and hidden in a storm drain – yes, as you can see, these caches can be hidden anywhere.   This cache included a simple log book where we signed our team name.

The second cache was hidden on a playground which made for a nice stop along our way, although it also presented 2 obstacles: other kids :).  In geocaching terms, non-cachers are called “muggles”.  You don’t want a muggle to see you finding or hiding a cache because they might find it for themselves and, not knowing what it’s for, remove it.  The girls had the wise idea of playing tag so that we appeared to be simply playing when in reality we were looking for the cache.  After locating the cache, we changed our cover story and began to play hide-and-go-seek so that one of us could stealthily spend a few minutes opening the cache.  This cache contained small toys that the girls could exchange for toys of their own.  The “give-a-toy, take-a-toy” type of cache is always fun for the girls because they come home with something new.

Our final cache of the day was located at the local public library.  This cache, hidden in a tree on the library’s property, was a bit more difficult because of the numbers of nearby muggles but we managed to sign the log and finish for the day.

This experience taught the girls about GPS, including how it works and how it helps us in our everyday lives.

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Experience 40 of 52: Antietam National Battlefield

Our visit to the Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland on this beautiful early spring day brought to life the realities of war.  Kate’s recognition that she felt both sadness for the loss of life of each soldier as well as feeling proud of their heroic efforts to fight for their country was enough to validate our endeavor to expose our children to 52 cultural/life experiences.  Putting names and faces to soldiers and seeing the battlefield helps to bring some perspective to the stories we hear about the Civil War.

We began our tour of the battlefield by watching a movie in the Visitors Center.  The almost 30 minute video introduced us to the battle and the reality of war (war is not PG!) and prepared us for our tour of the battlefield.  The 2 hour, 11 stop auto tour took us through the day’s battle and included a stop at the pacifistic “Dunker Church” where portions of the battle were fought and where the confederate and union army signed a truce the following day to exchange dead and wounded soldiers.  Among other sites, we saw a tribute to Clara Barton and read about her founding of the American Red Cross.  We ended that day at “Burnside Bridge” where a small number of Confederate soldiers were able to delay Union attacks for many hours which allowed additional Confederate troop reinforcements to arrive just when the Union were beginning to have success.  The most memorable aspect of our visit was trying to comprehend the 23,000 soldiers killed, wounded or missing in a single day, which is the single largest casualty count in the history of U.S. warfare and five times the number of casualties that occurred on D-Day.

We were also amazed with the over 100 monuments to the regiments and brigades that fought at this important battle.

We ended our day with a visit to a local ice cream shop that I recommend stopping at for 2 reasons: 1) it’s a local, family owned small business and it’s great to help those small businesses and, 2) I don’t think the selection, price and portions can be beat anywhere else!  4.5 stars on Yelp and 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor.com.  Visit Nutter’s Ice Cream for a real treat after you visit the battlefield!

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Experience 39 of 52: Skiing

Two trips to Ski Roundtop this year have exposed the gals to the skiing experience and it quickly became a favorite activity for them.  Susan is the experienced skier in the family and, I’m glad, wants to expose the gals to something that I must admit is no so exciting for me 🙂

On the first adventure both girls enrolled in a lesson which helped them to learn the basics and to gain confidence .  Both gals quickly picked up the minimum skills (controlling your downward speed and being able to slow down and stop yourself).  It’s taken me a little longer but Kate helped me on the next trip!  After spending the day learning and taking a final run down the slope, we headed for home.

On the second adventure we were joined by some of our good friends and their children which made the experience all the more fun.  We skipped the lessons this time and headed straight for the slopes where Kate did a fantastic job of teaching dad all that she had learned during our previous trip.  Grace and her friend ended the day making a few runs on their own which was a whole new level of trust and the confirmation that Grace is growing up and is certainly mature enough to be trusted in this type of environment.  Kate continued to make runs with mom and did a great job staying in control the entire time.

I have to admit that skiing isn’t exactly dad’s thing but as long as the gals want to continue I’ll go along for the ride!

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Experience 38 of 52: ICE

ICE at the Gaylord National Resort – National Harbor, Maryland is created from over 5,000 blocks of ice weighing over 2 million pounds.  As quoted from this website, the artisans are from “Harbin, China – a city in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province that is world-famous for its annual Harbin International Snow and Ice Festival. Every winter, more than 2,000 sculpture artists carve a massive, 100-acre walk-through Ice Park and a full-size Ice City from blocks of ice taken from the nearby Songhua River.”

The display at National Harbor is a quite “cool” 9 degrees and requires you to bundle up while you ooh and ah over the sculptors artistry.  The highlights were the ice slide and a huge ice angel!

We followed the ICE show with dinner at “Grace’s Mandarin” Chinese restaurant with impressive views of the harbor.

In addition to the ICE show, we walked through the Gaylord National Resort Hotel which is an adventure in and of itself!  The indoor atrium features a 60 foot tall Christmas tree and includes a nightly tree lighting ceremony complete with indoor snowfall.

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Experience 37 of 52: Christmas

The fall presents us with a series of holidays to celebrate and bring family together.  From birthdays in August/September, Halloween in October, Thanksgiving in November and finally Christmas in December, we have opportunities to celebrate and enjoy time with family and friends.

Our Christmas celebration this year continued our yearly tradition of visiting with Paul’s parents on Christmas Eve followed by a visit to Sue’s mom on Christmas day.  As always, the Anderson Christmas celebration provided plentiful provisions and generous gifting.  The gals were inundated with gifts from Paul’s parents, brother and three sisters.  Hopefully the crew found the gifts given by us as thoughtful and as appreciated as the gifts given to us.

On Christmas, after opening the generous lot of presents left by jolly old St. Nick, we spent the day with Susan’s mom, brother and sister and their families.  Once again we were treated to a grand meal and generous gifts.  We followed up our gift exchange with a game of Catch Phrase which was uproariously fun.

We also enjoyed a white Christmas this year that allowed us an opportunity to do some backyard sledding and to build a snow woman.  Life usually seems to be too full to enjoy days outside in the snow with the kids so having this day free to have fun with them was most enjoyable.  Our snow woman “Sally” didn’t last long, however, as the day warmed and the snow began to melt almost as quickly as it had arrived.

As always, the time with friends and family went by too fast.  We really should find more excuses other than holidays to spend time with family and friends.


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Experience 36 of 52: Xel Ha

Xel ha Park is essentially a natural aquarium that provides many activities to fill your day with adventures.  Because the entry fee pays for an all-inclusive admission, we didn’t need to bring food, towels, snorkeling equipment or even money for lockers which simplified this adventure.  We walked into the park and made our way to a tube ride which led us through a mangrove forest before expelling us into the snorkeling lagoon.

Here you could participate in numerous activities such as cliff jumping (which Susan braved) zip lining into the water (which we all braved) and other adventurous activities. Because we were pressed for time we were limited in what we could do but besides the tube ride we were able to

  • see and hear about 10 parrots
  • see a toucan close up
  • walk onto a glass bottom boat and look at the colorful fish below
  • discover many coati animals which are indigenous to the area
  • discuss what a cenote is, although we didn’t have time to see or jump into one

Some of the adventures available here that we would definitely want to investigate next time include:

  • Sea Trek® Xel-Ha – allows you to safely walk on the bottom of the lagoon without requiring scuba training
  • Snuba – combines snorkeling and scuba by allowing you to use snorkeling equipment that is attached to compressed air tanks located on the surface
  • Swim with the manatees
  • Stingray encounter (swim with them)
  • Zip Bike – a bicycle on a zip line gives you a bird’s eye view of the landscape

As is evident, there is a ton of extremely cool adventures available at Xel Ha.  We absolutely loved this adventure and would go back and spend an entire day here so that we could take part in all of the activities.  Although we were not able to squeeze in snorkeling during this trip, others in our party who did said that although they had to swim longer distances (than in Akumal) to find fish, when the schools were found they were as vibrant and plentiful as what you see on the Xel Ha brochures.

I think the biggest lesson learned here was that it is ok to, in a safe environment, step a little bit outside your comfort zone and take a calculated risk and enjoy the adventures that are in front of you. Susan set this example for the girls by jumping off the cliff even though it was intimidating. Hopefully the cliff jump planted a seed for the girls to enjoy life and to take a chance sometimes.

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Experience 35 of 52: Tulum

Tulum was a beautifully located coastal port believed to have been one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Mayans.  The ruins of Tulum provide a glimpse into the life of the Mayan people living from 500 – 700 years ago.  It was protected on one side by a steep cliff and on the other by what was believed to have been about a 15 foot tall wall that was around 25 feet thick and over 1000 feet long.  Defense of the city was obviously very important to the Mayans.

The ruins included three major structures:

  • El Castillo – a shrine that is believed to have been used as a beacon for incoming trading partners
  • Temple of the Frescoes – used as an observatory for tracking the movements of the sun
  • Temple of the Diving/Descending God – central to the site so it is believed to be a key God

We considered seeing the ruins as necessary since the upcoming “end of the Mayan calendar” had some folks predicting the end of the world.  It was cool to see firsthand the structures that were built by these folks.

You can also trek down to the beach at the base of the cliffs and take a swim in the ocean water.  We passed on this option because we wanted to leave time for a same day trip to Xel Ha.

The ruins at Tulum are smaller than those we previously saw at Chicken Itza but the trip is shorter.  When the gals are older we will consider making another trip to Chicken Itza which was named one of the new 7 wonders of the world in 2006 which happens to be the year that Susan and I visited the site.  We decided to visit Tulum this time because the trip was shorter and would be enough to give the gals an introduction to the Mayan culture and architecture.  We’d recommend visiting Tulum if visiting with younger children and Chicken Itza if visiting with older children.

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Experience 34 of 52: Swimming with the Dolphins

Besides the beach and swimming in the pools at the hotel, swimming with the dolphins was the one thing the girls really wanted to experience while in Cancun.  Although I must admit it was a little intimidating to see the gals in the water with the dolphins, we trusted the water park and enjoyed seeing the gals smile each time they were able to interact with one of these brainy mammals.

The girls were able to pet, hold fins, cause the dolphin to do tricks and get a kiss from the dolphin.  In addition, the dolphin created a whirlpool affect, splashed the participants and did impressive jumps and tricks in the water while the girls were participating.  This was a memorable experience and we were very pleased with the length of the program and the quality of the experience. Although the water was cold, the gals thoroughly enjoyed the interaction.

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Experience 33 of 52: Akumal, Mexico

Akumal, (which means “Place of the Turtle” in the Mayan language), a small town 100 km south of Cancun, was like a picture postcard of a Caribbean beach. Small boats to be chartered for snorkeling adjacent to an ocean front cabana made it feel like heaven. We relaxed in the numerous hammocks before moving to the cabana for vittles.

After lunch we continued further along a dirt, pot-hole filled road to reach Yu-Hal to begin our snorkeling adventure. We donned our gear and trekked a stones throw to the lagoon. We were treated to a multitude of species to stimulate our sense of wonder and awe. Yellow, blue or black in color; short medium or long-nosed; in schools or swimming alone we coasted along enjoying the beauties of the undersea world.

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