Tag Archives: outdoors

White Squirrel!

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My family was driving around town enjoying one of the northeast’s few remaining yard sale weekends, when my daughter spotted a white squirrel.
We ditched our yard sale plans and followed it down the street instead. Because, SQUIRREL!!!
This little guy was quick, and we couldn’t get close enough to take a really good picture. We tried.  We decided that he was on the hunt for any white chocolate that trick-or-treaters tossed from their bags to make room for the good stuff.

We later found a great resource from white squirrel expert Rob Nelson, and learned a whole lot about these cool critters. Rob is compiling research and a map of white squirrel sightings at Untamed Science, where we logged our own account to contribute to the research.

DIY Kite Messenger Parachute Drop

A kite messenger is a clever little device that slides up a kite string, releases a light payload, then slides back down to the bottom of the string for more fun. I made one with some cheap materials and finally found some windy days to test it out. Some kite messenger designs use sails to pull up the kite, but I’m starting out with a simpler design that uses toy parachutes to catch the wind. It can be made in just a few minutes using drinking straws, wire, tape, and a toy parachute.

Here’s how it works: The front loop of the wire hits a simple cardboard bumper attached high up on the line. As the wire stops, the rest of the unit continues forward, opening the middle section where the parachute is held. Once the parachute releases, the messenger slides right back down towards the spool of string, ready to be reloaded for more fun.IMG_1338
IMG_9652It’s fun to see the kid’s excitement build as they watch the messenger climb up the string, eagerly awaiting the parachute’s release so they can chase it down.

Here is a tutorial on how to build your own kite messenger. I used replacement Tervis straws that I purchased at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, because they’re much sturdier than your average soda straw. To hold it all together I used packing tape as well as a bit of super glue for good measure. The climb to the top of the kite line seemed to take a little long, so my next modification will be to use a much lighter gauge wire to reduce the overall weight.

How to Find Walking Labyrinths 

labyrinthMy family recently came across a walking labyrinth for the first time and now we’re hooked. We literally stumbled onto it during a college campus visit. Thinking that I would be the only one excited about this, I was surprised when both of my young kids jumped in and walked the entire length with complete focus.

Of course, I was quite impressed by this. It was a ten minute, non-digital oasis when I didn’t have to field questions about snacks or break up arguments. They were totally in the zone.
It is a simple, yet powerful, principal; you are set into forward motion, you have momentum, and knowing the end is not too far away, you’re committed to twisting, turning, and spiraling until you reach it. What a great exercise for focus in an age when people (of all ages) can use it the most! I left wanting more, so I’ve since tracked down several other nearby labryinths and we’re excited to visit them.

To find labyrinths near you, visit labyrinthlocator.com, where you can search a large database of labyrinths that includes useful information such as: directions, accessibility, hours, pictures, etc. You can search by city, zip code, or state. Both private and public labyrinths are listed, and while some aren’t open to the public, it’s still fascinating to view the pictures and marvel at these labors of love.

Sorting through data by state produced too many results over too wide of an area to sift through. Yet, I didn’t want to exclude any nearby small towns located in other zip codes that were still within reasonable driving range to me. A map of nearby labyrinths would be ideal, but since that wasn’t an available feature, my solution was utilizing zipmap.net to make a short list of a few zip codes within an acceptable driving range, then searching each of them on the labyrinth locator. I quickly found several labyrinths very close to me, and was especially surprised to find that I drive right past a few of them daily. Now that I know they are there and available to the public, it’s on my spring to-do list to hit as many as possible.

A day or so after our first labyrinth find, I noticed something interesting about a carpet at preschool. Carpet LabyrinthI think this may be an example of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon at work. It’s amazing what you can notice, or miss, depending on how you look at things and whether or not your mind is primed.

If you visit any labyrinths near you, send a picture and I’ll post them here! Stay curious and keep exploring!

The Adventures of Sprowkey: Chapter 11, The Original Stash

The Adventures of Sprowkey is part of a series following the whereabouts of a trackable geocaching item. Actual locations and events surrounding this trackable item form the basis for a fictional narrative, creating a unique and interactive geocaching experience. For more background on this series, see the first installment of The Adventures of Sprowkey. 

Sprowkey plane

After a long winter holed up indoors, many citizens enthusiastically await the warmer weather and new foliage of spring. As they begin spending more time outdoors, this creates the perfect opportunity for field agents to run missions under an abundance of cover, which also explains why spring and summer months are the most active seasons for agents and cachers. Deciding to lay low through much of this valuable time was a frustrating, yet necessary decision for Sprowkey.

His gut told him that a number of “friendly” agents may not have been so friendly after all. How could any competent agent accidentally put Sprowkey so far off course, moving him from Phoenix all the way to the far reaches of the eastern coast and seriously jeopardizing his mission? No, someone was purposely sabotaging Sprowkey, and there was no other recourse but to lose him like a loose tooth.

Fortunately, Sprowkey  knew he could be trusted in the hands of long-time colleagues and friends, Agents Ma & Pa.  They managed to pick him up in late May without being followed and planned to hide out until they had a solid plan that would get Sprowkey out of this predicament and back into action on the west coast.

The Plan

Ma & Pa would see that Sprowkey safely makes it to the rendezvous, a secure transport hub for high level operatives called the IL/WI State Line Transfer Terminal. Agent Riskguy would meet Sprowkey here, and rather than continuing on the obvious western course, they would travel southeast to The Palms Hotel in Florida, a move intended to confuse and befuddle enemy spies. It is here that Sprowkey would finally meet the legendary Agent CBX25, who would see him through the riskiest part of the plan. CBX25 is the James Bond of the geo-world. He is given only the most high-profile missions, and not only does he accomplish them with ease, he does so in style. CBX25 would make several stops in the southeast to test the waters and shake off any lingering enemy spies before flying across country.

sprowkey map

I’m happy to report that the plan went off without a hitch! Sprowkey and CBX25 are in the sky, while enemy agents are scrambling on the wrong side of the country to pick up his trail again. CBX25 was so ahead of the opposition that he had plenty of time to show Sprowkey around before taking to the sky. First they visited the World of Coca-Cola and the top of Stone Mountain, both in Atlanta.c5b87477-4823-43ec-92ec-8ada9cba730a

Stone Mtn.

Finally, they made the pilgrimage to the very first cache location, the place where it all began!

First Geocache Site

Upon landing, CBX25 will mine his network of connections on the west coast to get him in the right hands and back on track. Until then, stay tuned for the next installment of the Adventures of Sprowkey!

Sprowkey plane

 Total miles traveled: 20674

Previously: The Adventures of Sprowkey: Chapter 10, Mooser’s


Rock Hunting for Cabbage Head Quartz

Cabbage Head QuartzI always thought it’d be fun to take the kids on a hunting expedition for fossils, trilobites, geodes, or other cool rocks, but never had a clue where to look or how to get started. It was just happenstance that I spotted a FalconGuides Rockhounding book at the library. I started flipping through it immediately upon returning home, and was excited to find a site of interest in my hometown. I grabbed some gear and loaded the family into the car to join me in some impromptu rock hunting before dinner. We were looking for cabbage head quartz, which turned out to be ripe for the picking, because everyone had found at least one specimen in under twenty minutes! The rocks have a really unique circular pattern that look like flowers, or cabbage heads. Now that our first hunt was a success, we’re excited to plan another expedition soon to add some other neat rocks to our collection. It’s amazing what sort of new wonders are lurking just around the corner, waiting to be discovered. The trick is to be curious about the world around you. There’s always more to learn and discover, no matter where you live!

Cabbage Head Quartz2

The Mysterious Skull: Case Closed



In June, I posted pictures of a small animal skull that my kids found in a playground next to a wooded field. Still wondering what kind of animal it had belonged to, I posted the question on Ask Metafilter, and within a few hours the overwhelming consensus was that it had once belonged to a raccoon. Someone also pointed out that it was seriously gnawed on by another animal, as proved by the scratch marks that I hadn’t even noticed. Another case solved by the internets!skull 1skull 2 skull 3

Chasing Butterflies

Hiking with children can be tricky and slow-going, but it’s totally worth the effort. Last weekend, we set out to hike a trail that runs along a tranquil stream. I wanted to hunt for geodes, but the kids were more interested in skipping stones. I was preparing to turn around when the kids spotted a clearing up ahead, so I promised to go only that far, take a brief rest, and start heading back. As we approached the clearing, we spotted a rabble of butterflies chilling out in an old fire pit. http://instagram.com/p/pGj9TZDx05/The kids had been in butterfly tents before, but getting up close and personal in nature was infinitely more amazing. It’s too bad we left our butterfly net at home when we really needed it!

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A #butterfly net would have been really helpful!

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Even so, the kids had tons of fun getting up close to the butterflies and chasing them around. They’re already asking to go back, and I’m trying to explain to them that the butterflies may likely be gone by then. That’s ok, they explained, maybe next time we can find a unicorn! Do they make a net for that?

The Adventures of Sprowkey: Chapter 10, Mooser’s

The Adventures of Sprowkey is part of a series following the whereabouts of a trackable geocaching item. Actual locations and events surrounding this trackable item form the basis for a fictional narrative, creating a unique and interactive geocaching experience. For more background on this series, see the first installment of The Adventures of Sprowkey. 


With merely 500 miles between him and his destination, Sprowkey’s mission has been severely compromised! He had been carefully packed up and stowed away, patiently awaiting final transport by secret agent BirdsIView. However, BirdsIView had picked up the dossier for the wrong field agent, and while he carefully read the mission details and waited for the absolute perfect time to make his move, he actually set out in precisely the opposite direction of Sprowkey’s intended destination.

BirdsIView smuggled Sprowkey all the way from Phoenix back to Ohio, which would have been bad enough, except it was just a pitstop before their true target–New Brunswick, Canada! The complete opposite side of the continent! This setback puts Sprowkey nearly 16 driving hours FURTHER past where he had started!

The good news is that Sprowkey is in a safe place that the locals know as Mooser’s Restaurant. This popular pub and eatery is actually just a front for a top-secret geocaching operations base. Here, undercover agents are safe to share highly confidential information and to pool their efforts.




A favorite breakfast special among special agents

Sprowkey’s morale is at an all time low after this devastating setback. Will he give up hope and abandon his mission, or will he set out again, more determined than ever? Stay tuned for Sprowkey’s next adventure!

Total miles traveled: 10743


The Adventures of Sprowkey: Chapter 9, Phoenix, baby!


The Adventures of Sprowkey: Chapter 9, Phoenix, baby!

The Adventures of Sprowkey is part of a series following the whereabouts of a trackable geocaching item. Actual locations and events surrounding this trackable item form the basis for a fictional narrative, creating a unique and interactive geocaching experience. For more background on this series, see the first installment of The Adventures of Sprowkey. 


Last we heard of Sprowkey, he had been found unconscious and severely dehydrated in the Sonoran desert. He was captured by an intimidating gang of desert nomads that included F. Dawg, Kandy Kane, and L.A. Roaming Gnome. As it turns out, this ratty desert gang was really a group of good samaritans at heart. They cared for Sprowkey, and in time, were able to nurse him back to full health.

After his recovery, Sprowkey said his goodbyes to the Sonoran desert gang and was escorted from Picacho Peak State Park back into town under the care of Linda1201. Agent Linda1201 provided the field photos below to prove that Sprowkey was indeed alive and well.

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Once back in Tucson, our special agents wasted no time making their moves. They disseminated across the region and took their positions. It began with some stealthy, short trips in between several secure local hideouts. Cachemasters91 took Sprowkey to Upper Geronimo Wash, where he stayed for 10 days before being picked up by FreddyColgate. From there, the action really gained momentum. Sprowkey made the trek one hundred miles northwest to a place called Kenya’s Love, right in the heart of Phoenix. Here, he made the acquaintance of several other trackables that could potentially become strong allies. Unfortunately, there was no time to get comfortable and make friends. He had to move, and he had to move quick – before his trail could be picked up.


With the help of SylverWinged and Cbritt84, Sprowkey navigated through the heart of Phoenix, making brief respites at the west campus of Arizona State University and the Buckeye Municipal Airport, all the while managing to skirt his adversaries without attracting their attention.

Currently, Sprowkey is in the capable hands of BirdsIView. He’s been in sight of a several hideouts, though something just seemed a bit off at each of them, and BirdsIView is not one to take unnecessary chances on the ground. It’s conceivable that someone picked up his scent while making the move through Phoenix. For now they will proceed with caution, keeping a low profile until another safe haven can be found. While he is finally closing in on the west coast, the finish line within tormenting reach, the real dangers are just beginning.

Miles traveled since last stop: ???

Total miles traveled: 7707


The Adventures of Sprowkey: Chapter 8, Picacho Peak