Musings from Central Asia and points otherwise

May 6, 2017

Science Otherwise – my “ah ha” moment.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thies Family @ 6:01 pm

The best film I have ever watched is “Flight of the Butterflies”.  It is a documentary which starts with a young boy in Canada at a picnic, observing monarch butterflies.  He noticed that each year they were around for a short time, then disappeared, and he asked the simplest of questions “where do they go?” It became his life’s work, along with his wife,  to answer this.  The moment in the film which shows the answer to the question was intensely emotional for me, I can’t even imagine how he felt!  The film was beautiful,  and as it was in 3D it really looked like butterflies were flying around the room and my children were trying to catch them!  But more importantly it was speaking to the passion this man had in seeking the truth, and finding an answer which turned out to be so much bigger and more spectacular than he could possibly have imagined as a young boy on a picnic.  The question, “where do the butterflies go?” was his “ah ha” moment – he had a question and he used science to answer it.

My “ah ha” moment, in a much more modest way,  came at an art show, which I was visiting with my son.  I had stopped to watch a demonstration on marbling, a process which involves two different liquids, one in a tank and the inks that float on top.  During the demonstrator’s patter he said that the liquid in the tank was water based, and also that the paints were water based.  I asked why they didn’t mix.  Clearly he had never been asked that before – he was there to make beautiful art, after all – and he didn’t know the answer.

My son reappeared at that point, said “whatever” to my comment of “interesting science” and we went on our way.

I did buy a kit and spent some happy hours also making beautiful art, while thinking about the science of the process.  Two water based systems should mix, but they don’t because they have very different densities.  Left alone for a while they mix up and tend towards a homogenous mess. I decided to visit a few art shops (not a common activity for me) and looked at other marbling systems, most of which are based on the more traditional oil on water system.

Shortly after this I started chemistry lessons for home educated children, beginning with the chemistry of liquids, and introducing the idea of hydrophobic (water hating, like oil) and hydrophilic (water loving).  There were many wonderful, messy experiments done to test this out, and we ended the session with actually using the principles we had learned, and applied by doing some marbling.  Everybody left with lovely art – after all, it’s really hard to not get it to look good – and excited about the chemistry they hard learned.

Chemistry is traditionally taught as something done in a lab, involving test tubes, white coats, confusing names and laws that don’t really appear outside of the lab.  I always loved chemistry but my understanding of the world outside of the lab in terms of chemistry was shaky. I could rattle off names on the periodic table, talk about their properties, number of electrons, emission spectra, etc,  but when it came to cleaning the house, for instance, I just went and bought bottles of “floor cleaner”, “kitchen cleaner”, “window cleaner” etc without giving any thought to what was in them.  Physics is taught with a similar lack of relevance to the world.  I could recite all the laws involving electricity, I knew all the theory, but when it came to actually working on the house and understanding how the house was wired, I had no clue.

Love of science and scientific understanding doesn’t generally come through learning laws and doing calculations that most people don’t really get.  Love of science comes from looking, observing and saying “hmm, I wonder why…..butterflies disappear”, “hmm, I wonder why…marbling works”, “hmm, I wonder how to make the perfect chocolate truffle” (one of my own personal passions), and so on.

Not everyone is going to go on a quest as heroic as the butterfly quest, not everyone will have a question that they spend their entire lives asking.  But our whole world is built on scientific laws and anyone can look at a uniquely shaped building and wonder how it stays up, or think about the science behind making the perfect popcorn, or whatever floats their boat, literally.

So when people of any age discover that some toys float in the bath while others don’t, or that bubbles go up, or that some chocolate mousse is better than others, or that some liquids don’t mix together, it’s worth while standing back, let them play with it and say “hmm, I wonder why….”

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March 11, 2017

The Lithium kid has a burning desire for chemistry

Filed under: Home School Science,Uncategorized — Thies Family @ 2:00 am
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Lithium added to 7Up, then indicator

 

I’ve been teaching chemistry to home educated children for years now, and my approach has developed over time.  Initially I followed a curriculum and made sure certain themes were covered in depth, even ones I didn’t find especially interesting myself.   After a while I started focusing more on doing chemistry, with less of the curriculum mindset that some things just had to be learned in a certain order.  As students experimented they excitedly made observations.   I explained the theory and gave suggestions of more ways to learn about that topic.  When something sparked their interest they would return the next week with new examples of what they had observed and learned.

In the course of one of these sessions I came across a 10 year old boy who was asking questions that I had not heard from, well, anyone actually, let alone a 10 year old.  He was asking about the properties of sodium, potassium and lithium, discussing their chemistry in detail and desperately wanting to try some of it himself.  In my years of working in university chemistry labs I had only seen sodium a few times, potassium once, I think, and lithium never.  In fact I knew virtually nothing about lithium.  I could infer quite a lot from its position in the periodic table, but that was about it.

It turns out he had seen a video on youtube (of course!) about extracting lithium from batteries and doing experiments with it.  He was desperate to try it.  His mother knew very little chemistry, but enough to know that she desperately didn’t want to be messing around with this, and she didn’t want him messing around with it unsupervised.  After some research I offered to have him come round and do the experiments under the joint supervision of myself as a chemist and my husband as a former specialist in explosives in the army.  That way we’re covering all bases!

The day of the experiment he was due to come round at 1pm.  He had set the alarm for 7am to make sure he was ready in time

After half an hour or so, he had taken apart the battery and had pure lithium.  That’s when the fun really started.  Lithium reacts with water and gives off hydrogen gas .  Seeing chemistry in action – smells, gases, heat, metals “disappearing” – is very dramatic, and our young scientist was giddy with excitement.   He went on to do several more experiments: adding lithium to 7Up and several other fizzy drinks, putting in indicators to track the change from acidic to alkaline, and setting fire to the metal (a bright white flame).

There is no way I would ever have thought of introducing lithium to a 10 year old – after all, no-one ever had to me, and I don’t know that I would have been especially interested.  But he is. He is passionate about group 1 metals, he reads about them, watches videos about them and wants to do so many more experiments, even asking me if I could get some caesium (NO!).

When I do chemistry demonstrations I use the line “If chemistry is boring, you’re doing it wrong”. I love the fact that with the Lithium Kid, (as my children call him) I had no need to tell him that.  I love the fact that he is home educated and his mother is encouraging him to ask those questions.  I love that, by mentoring him, I share his excitement and have learned a lot of new chemistry myself – but I’m still not going to get any caesium!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 5, 2017

Science museums – the great, the good and the disappointing.

 

Science museums have played a large part in our life as a home school family. My boys’ first visit to Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland, Oregon , when they were 3, 1 (and 4 months old, but he just lay around mostly). Since then we have visited museums throughout the USA and UK and become connoisseurs, and have learned what works well and what doesn’t. I have reviews of some that we loved, some that we liked a lot, and one that was, as the title says, really disappointing.

Exploratorium

My favourite by far has been the Exploratorium in San Francisco.  It grabs you right from the start with a water fountain – mounted inside a toilet.

 

This was adjacent to a normal looking water fountain, and the same pipe fed them, but the mental barrier to overcome in order to put your head inside that toilet was enormous – and the yuck factor huge.

 

Everything at the Exploratorium is hands on.  It is inside a converted warehouse at the pier, the rooms are cavernous, and they are all FILLED with things to try, ways to make noise, things to cut and stick and rearrange and ….well you get the idea. My three boys and myself all found very different things we were interested in and didn’t even see each other for hours at a time, we all got so engrossed in what we were exploring, and there is plenty for all ages.

We went for an afternoon and stayed for four days – we actually bought a membership just for those days, knowing we would not be able to come again.  It was totally worth it.

 

Natural History Museum.

Completely different from the Exploratorium.  This was a  museum built in Victorian times in Kensington, London, next to the Science museum and the V+A. It is beautiful, and packed full of amazing specimens from around the world.  The dinosaur room is always a huge draw, but as we went in the Christmas holidays it was very busy – as home schoolers we’re just not used to that so we really didn’t spend a lot of time there.  I enjoyed the gem room and the area devoted to show casing the most famous parts of their collection, including a dodo.

The highlight for us, however, was a room hidden away in the basement, the Investigate Centre.  They have thousands of specimens in drawers around the walls, and in the centre of the room are tables with balances, rulers, microscopes, notepads.  The museum staff are not there to tell you what to do: they encourage you to get things out, look at them, handle them, examine them, answer questions and ask questions that help you think about what you have in front of you.  We were in there for three hours, and during that time several groups came, stayed about 20 minutes and were hustled out by teachers. The staff got to know us well during that time and were bringing out their favourite items and then gave us all bookmarks and magnets to take home. It was probably the best learning environment I have seen in a museum, and I wish more museums had the confidence in themselves and their visitors to do more of this.

 

OMSI

As mentioned at the beginning, this was our first museum and the closest one to us, about an hour’s drive away, in Portland, Oregon.

When we first started going we had two toddlers and a baby, so we spent all our time in the Science Playground.  It is designed for ages 0-7  (although older children can be in if they have a younger member in their group) and there is usually a guard on the door so that if your little one reaches the door and tries to get out they are ushered back in.  There is actually no need to leave this area all day, as it includes a place to eat a packed lunch, toilets and a room for nursing mothers. And to be honest, most children will not want to leave as there is so much to do: a large sandpit with scooping, pouring and digging equipment; a woodland habitat complete with beaver dress up clothes; a large water feature, complete with aprons and waterproof boots; a scientific crafts area with flubber, spinning art, and many, many more.  Over the years they focused on different parts of the room and played with different things.

Eventually we graduated out of the Science Playgrounds and into the Turbine Room, which could be summarised as a hair raising place to build, knock down and launch. There are areas which look more like traditional science – a chemistry lab, for instance – but the main area has lots of motion and force related experiences: a shaking house that simulates earthquakes, a bottle rocket launcher where you can vary the mixture of air and water and release them, a station to make paper aeroplanes and test them in a stream of air, a Van der Graaf generator.  The highlight of the Turbine Room was the “ball room”, an enclosed area filled with light weight plastic balls which you could launch with jets of air, catapults, or your arms, onto a conveyor belt which took them to the other side of the entire building and back again. Parents could sit outside and watch – and as one of my boys stayed in two hours once, you need somewhere comfortable to sit and read.

There were many other great things about OMSI – the visiting exhibitions, the permanent galleries, the films to name a few, the cafe the shop, and our membership paid for itself many times over. We have lovely memories of this place, both our family and the many friends with whom we spent time there.

The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

About a year ago we visited Washington DC and were excited to go to this museum, as of course it’s the best.  If you want to see rockets, the Wright brothers’ plane or anything else flight related this is of course the place.  My favourite moment was at an exhibition of meteorites when I mentioned one that had fallen in Russia, the curator casually produced a piece of that exact meteorite – ta da! I was very impressed.

For children though, this was the museum that we rated as disappointing. There was a workshop on flight which involved making a paper aeroplane – they were given pieces of paper with lines on, they had to fold along the lines when told, they were given a weight and told where to put it, then there was a competition to see who could throw it the furthest.  The winner (my first son) won a gold medal, but he learned nothing.  There was no encouragement to design their own, no real discussion about different designs – all that was tested was how well they could fold and throw.

I’m glad we went – they did get to see amazing things you literally cannot see anywhere else.  But the workshops (there was another one first son went to without me that sounded just as disappointing) were just not well done.

 

So what makes a good science museum?

In our experience with these (and several others I will review another time) -get out of the way and let the children play!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 31, 2016

A month in Birmingham.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thies Family @ 1:05 pm

It’s a beautiful sunny morning here in Birmingham and it’s time I summed up our arrival and first month.

It all started really badly.

First of all, immigration is complicated.  I had spent weeks, probably, working out the correct visas for the family. Two of us have British passports so we were fine. Patrick had a work visa stamped in his passport so he was fine. The other two were more complicated. In the end I had called the help line at the British embassy, which routed me through to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for a fee, and I had asked if I could bring them in as visitors as I have done many times, then change their status to dependents of either Patrick or myself.  There was no hesitation “of course” she said.

Clearly the border people at Heathrow hadn’t been part of the same phone conversation as they denied them entry, booked them back on a plane to New York (a 12 and 10 year old), took their passports, and gave them 48 hours to return to Heathrow and get on the plane. Patrick and Philip left Heathrow so that they could get up to Birmingham to get the keys to the house in time, otherwise we wouldn’t get in that day and have to be in a hotel again. Finally Benjamin, Edward and I also left and took the bus up to Birmingham.  I managed to get a mobile phone so that I could at least communicate with my sister, Patrick didn’t even have that! Anyway, he did meet up with her, get the keys to the house and get in.  I arrived about an hour later.

The next morning all our possessions arrived and we had a very hectic few hours of getting them in, and suddenly going from a completely empty house to a very full, chaotic place. So far we’ve only found a couple of breakages, so that all went well.

Once that was done I contacted an immigration lawyer.  Complicated story, and expensive story as lawyers don’t come cheap, especially when you are on a deadline as we were, but by Friday evening a judge had given them clearance to stay for 6 months as visitors, as was the initial plan.  The passports arrived back a week or so later, and then this week we started working on their visas.  We assumed that we would have to leave the country to apply, so started making plans for that, maybe a trip to France or southern Spain, which sounds really nice in March/April. However, as we started looking through the information on how to go about it, it clearly states that we can apply FROM here. So the border people were totally wrong and the initial advice was correct.

Next order of business is to put in a complaint and see if I can recoup some of the money. The only amusing part of the story was that the words on their uniforms were “Border FORCE”, but I was really tired and stressed and kept reading it as “Border FARCE”.  Turns out that was more appropriate anyway.

My clue that things were really messed up should have been when I said “I spent weeks looking into it and it’s very complicated” to which she replied “I find it confusing and I work here”.

So, moving on to happier things. We love the house we’ve rented.  It’s on a cul-de-sac behind some apartments.  There are just 4 houses and virtually no-one knows about it. It’s completely hidden away, and there is no passing traffic. Backing on to our garden is a nature reserve and we can’t see any other houses, but instead lots of trees, daffodils, primroses and birds: magpies, swans, geese, ducks, robins, heron and many more.

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The highlight is definitely the heron’s nest, which for some reason isn’t loading onto here.

We are in the King’s Norton area of Birmingham, originally a village which eventually merged into the city. It still has a village green and has the feel of a village.

 

These are some of the pictures from the green. There are plenty of shops, pubs, cafes, tea rooms, so no chance of us starving.  Plus, I have discovered that if I have run out of milk, I can pop into the village and back and still have my tea hot.  It’s about a 2 minute walk.

Over the road from the house is a large park, with a playground and skate park. The boys spend a lot of time there. The first Saturday of our stay, Philip arrived back from the park with a dad and two sons.  Edward had been introducing himself to people there, and one of the families turned out to be home schoolers, so Philip brought them to meet us so that we could get connected. They invited us to 3 home ed meet ups the following week, and made us feel so very welcome. What a delight, and what a star Edward has been getting to know people.

I’ll write more in the next post about adjusting to life here.  Time to get going now though, things to do, places to be, contact lenses to put it.

 

 

 

 

 

February 29, 2016

New York City, the end of the line.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thies Family @ 4:17 pm

We arrived at the end of our train trip at Penn Station on a lovely sunny day.  The trip from Philadelphia to New York was the least interesting part but also the shortest. The rest of the day we just got to our hotel and relaxed.
The following day we set off to see the big city. We are staying on Staten Island, so to get to the city we take the free ferry right past the statue of Liberty. 

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A memorable start to the day.
Once we arrived we went to book tickets to go out to the island for Tuesday. The ticket office is in an old fort, Castle Clinton which is now a national park.  Once the boys realized that, they had to do the junior ranger program.  Philip is generally averse to doing any kind of book work but for some reason loves to get his junior ranger patch and this is now his fourth. I wish we had remembered about it in Philadelphia at Independence Hall.

Once they were all officially junior rangers we moved on, first to get some food from a street cart, then about half an hour at a playground for rich children in the financial district, then on to the 9/11 me

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mor

ial

.

I had no idea what to expect there, I just knew there was some kind of pool. Although it doesn’t photograph particularly well, it is an excellent memorial. The way the names are inscribed is very tactile and makes you run your hands over the names, which made it very personal.
It was interesting to see the boys’ reaction. To them it’s just another memorial to something that happened before they were born, no different from Vietnam, WWII, etc. Although we have talked about that day it doesn’t mean much to them.

Onto the next destination: Rockefeller plaza. We made our way via Grand Central Terminal. You’d think I’d had enough of stations but I really wanted to see this one. It truly did not disappoint.  Supposedly the most beautiful station in the world, I’d have

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to ag

ree. Someone taking a break in the front there.

Anyway, on to Rockefeller plaza and up to the top. On a crystal clear day, not a cloud in the sky, and sunset to boot, it could not have been m

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ore perfect.

We spent about an hour up there oohing and aahing. Finally came down for food and back to the hotel where we all collapsed into bed. 
Monday: a new adventure in New York awaits. Can’t wait.

February 27, 2016

Philly

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thies Family @ 10:22 pm

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The city of brotherly love. Let’s hope it rubs off on our three.

We stayed in a delightful airbnb house in a small but hip neighborhood in Philadelphia.  Dead opposite was a whole food grocers, Starbucks was at the end of the block and the Liberty bell was less than a mile away.
Many of the houses here have been decorated with mosaics including bits of mirrors so it sparked in the sunshine.
Also down the street was an anarchist book shop, but Pat found to his disappointment that they had no science fiction (maybe an niche for aspiring authors there).  There was a sign saying that we should ask anyone working there what the appropriate pronoun is and not to assume, so that was a new one for me.

First order of business was to force a bit more history into the brains of our impressionable boys. We walked to Independence Hall in rather cold weather and spirits were rather flagging by the time we got there. Philip made it clear he was not going to learn any history and that was his final word. Such cruel parents he has.

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But there he is, in the place where the Declaration was signed and where the constitution was written, and I’m sure something went in.
I personally found it quite humbling that we were standing there, and could imagine the scene of these now famous men hashing out the constitution. Also good to remember that they argued and disagreed and shouted, but also compromised in the end to get something that works.

Next stop was the Franklin Institute, a science museum. We have a membership at a small children’s museum in Salem and it gets us in places like this and the Field Museum for free. It’s a fantastic program and we have used

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it well

over

the ye

ars.

Here is a statue of the great

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man in the

beautiful

lobby.

Here is Philip in the sports science section. He spent hours there trying to junp higher, run faster, pitch better. I’ve never known anyone leave a science museum exhausted and sweating. 
Edward spent his time in the heart section, watching a dissection then learning about first aid for heart problems, and of course walking

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through the g

iant heart

Ben spent his time in the brain section and is now quoting lots of facts to us. Pat mostly slept.

All in all a good day.

February 25, 2016

Mount Vernon

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thies Family @ 6:06 am

First there was George Washington.

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He died childless and his home, Mount Vernon went to his nephew

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.

Several generations later the family sold it and took some of the possessions.  Several generations later some of those possessions were handed down to Patrick.  They included 2 books which were inscribed “Ann Washington, Mount Vernon, 1802”. He decided to donate them to Mount Vernon.
So, today, we went to visit the books at the ancestral home.
We had contacted the librarian and he made an appointment to meet us at 2pm and give us a tour of the library. This included going inside two vaults to see the books that George Washington had personally owned. It’s super rare for anyone to go in there at all. It was amazing.  Truly one of the highlights of my life.

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These coins were inside the vault.  I did take photos of the books in there but not on this camera. I was frankly amazed that we were allowed to take photos of the books at all.

After that we went into the house itself.  It is in a beautiful location, but we couldn’t really appreciate it fully as, for the first time on this trip it was cold and wet and we couldn’t really see the view. We had been told by Pat’s grandma that her grandmother had scratched one of the windows with her diamond ring, so we asked the guide about that and were shown where that was.
George Washington was such an inspiration in many ways, it is a privilege to claim a family connection. I’d vote for him 

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After the tour of the house we went back to the library to view the books we had donated and were thanked profusely.  The pleasure was definitely ours!
One more treat was to spend the day with a friend from Cambridge, Daniel, who lives nearby.  He came into the vault with us too, which he had no idea was going to happen when he said he was free to meet us for the day. So I think we made his day too.

February 23, 2016

On the lookout for winter.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thies Family @ 5:51 am

When we planned this trip we assumed that February = winter. I mean we have been around a few years and that is normally the way it goes. We packed accordingly (apart from Philip who only ever packs shorts and tee shirts) and have lugged coats, scarves, hats etc around the country.  Chicago at least had the decency to be cold on Sunday as the wind blew off the lake and Philip’s legs in shorts were frigid. The previous day though had been warm and sunny.

We spent Sunday with college friends of Pat’s: Shawn, Jill and Joe. They had a lot of catching up to do so we all went down to Millennium Park where they could talk and the boys could play . The underground car park there is so immense that had I been alone I would still be wondering around lost a week later.
Once above ground we could enjoy the architecture and art of Chicago. It is such a beautiful city, with unique buildings, not just tall, though definitely that. Even the pedestrian bridge we used was on a grand scale.
Note: for some reason the camera has started storing the photos in random orientations so I apologize in advance for that.

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We found a large and well designed playground for the boys so that energy could be all used up before getting back on the train. A playground completely in keeping with Chicago as a whole.

A few hours later and we were back on the train. This time the Capitol Limited, direct to Washington DC.
We woke up in Pennsylvania. For the first time since Oregon I could say that the scenery was pretty. Not spectacular or grand, definitely not flat and boring. Rolling hills and fast flowing rivers was the order of the day, lots of snow and ice and the occasional glimpse of green grass which was very welcome.

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It continued like this all morning with the valleys gradually widening out as we rode into the Potomac River valley and on into DC.

Arriving this way after traveling the entire country by train felt monumental.  The significance of this city just can’t be understated, and from the station, beautiful in the sunlight, was the imposing Capitol.

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Opposite is the Supreme Court and Library of Congress, each as spectacular.
Edward and I spent a couple of hours wondering around the mostly deserted Mall, soaking it all in.

Tomorrow is probably the most anticipated part of our trip, Mount Vernon. Expect tomorrow’s post to be long and detailed.

February 21, 2016

The Windy City (they’re not kidding)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thies Family @ 5:45 pm

They claim it’s called the windy city because of all the hot air coming from the politicians here. Indeed they boast some of the worst politicians out there. Their governors routinely go to jail after a spell in the governor’s mansion and their budget is so bad they are not even paying out on lottery winnings.
However when you arrive in the midst of 60 mph winds so that you can hardly open the station door it makes you wonder. When the next street over is blocked off and full of police cars and you assume there is some big crime going on, but really the wind is smashing windows in the skyscrapers and blowing glass and debris all over the city, you do wonder if, actually, it just is really windy here.

Our first appointment here was to have dinner with Tom, an army friend and best man at our wedding. For the boys the highlight of the evening was the revolving door in the hotel. They definitely seemed like country bumpkins the way they went round and round in it – the joys of a big city!

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Saturday morning started in the pool, a welcome change of pace.
Not for too long though as we had places to go, people to see. The place was the Field Museum. People were Cliff and Kristy, friends from down statr who had kindly driven up to the big city.

So, the Field Museum is spectacular.  Just the building itself is beautiful and reminiscent of the Natural History Museum in London.  The huge main hall has the museum’s main draw, Sue the t-rex. So cool! The boys even got to hold one of her teeth.

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She is apparently not above photo bombing.

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The collection of the Americas is also one of their most important collections, but we hadn’t seen our friends in years and it became clear that we just needed to sit and talk for a while. The boys however took off to Egypt and tried to pull a granite block the size of a pyramid block so that kept them busy.

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We spent all day there oohing over beautiful gems and pottery and textiles and…well you get the idea.  It’s a wonderful museum.

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Back at the hotel we were thrilled to spend time with relatives John and Christine who had driven up from Indianapolis to have dinner with us. We feel so lucky to have good friends and relatives who come so far out of their way to see us on this trip.

February 20, 2016

The flatlands

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thies Family @ 2:13 am

You know how I was raving about the station in Denver yesterday? I’m extra glad it was so good as our train was 4 hours late arriving there.  Happily there was plenty of room for parkour outside and the main branch of the bookstore was just over the road so several of us took up refuge there. 
Once we got on the train we all fell asleep immediately. 
The next morning we woke up in Nebraska.  It certainly lived up (or down) to its reputation as flat. Nuff said

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After quite a few more hours we crossed the Missouri River (i think, correct me if I am wrong) and into Iowa. This actually has been a bit of an upgrade. At one point we saw 12 bald eagles together. I didn’t think that ever happened.

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Typical of the Iowan towns we have seen. A lot of the roads in these small towns aren’t even paved.

One of the things that has struck me on our trip is the browness of it. We have hardly seen green since the other side of Reno.  It seems relentless.  Very little snow even, and most of that in California.  No rain at all on the trip.

One upside of the tedium is that I can sit and let the world go by without feeling I must watch every detail. So I’ve been sitting in the observation car listening to and watching my fellow passengers. Next to me is a couple on their 50th wedding anniversary trip, cuddled up and quietly chatting. That’s the best part of today’s trip, and it’s really great. That’ll be Pat and me in a few decades.

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I hope you can see them in the picture.

A few more hours and we will be in Chicago with a stop of several days.

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