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Christensen Family Journal Posts

Educating using Geocaches

The last few days we’ve been getting out of the house and doing some socially-distanced activities outside. Of course, those activities involved finding plastic containers in the middle of the woods (a.k.a. Geocaching). The kids are usually excited about getting out of the house and always excited to actually find something hidden in plain sight. During the previous few days we just concentrated on the handful of caches we have left over near our house. But today we ventured out and worked on some of the more educational caches in nearby Charles County.

Several governmental organizations have started using Geocaches to educate the public about whatever their particular niche is in life. This is a good thing. You can now target a certain feature on an otherwise large landscape of area and almost force people to take away some type of information.

We focused on five GeoTours for an educational spin:
* Smokey Bear 75th Anniversary GeoTour,
* UN’s International Year of Forests Big Tree,
* Find Your Chesapeake GeoTour,
* The Star-Spangled Banner GeoTour, and
* The Captain John Smith GeoTour

The Smokey Bear 75th Anniversary GeoTour

Sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Forest Fire Compact, a mutual-aid organization that brings resources together to combat wildland fires from as far north as Ohio through as far south as Virginia. There are seventy-five caches just waiting for us to go find them and yesterday we found two.

The first was at the Welcome Forestry Tower. This tower, build by the CCC in 1934, is nearly ninety years old! Twenty miles of telephone line had to be run to the tower before it could be placed in service.

We then visted the Doncaster Demonstration Forest where we hiked to see a fire plow, used for creating fire breaks and usually pulled by a tractor. The hike to the plow was just less than two miles, round trip, down a fire road so that was fun.

Elise and Eric look at the crack in the middle of two very large Tulip Poplar trees.

As part of the UN’s International Year of Forests Big Tree GeoTour, this huge tree was made into a great place to hide a Geocache.

Thomas Stone National Historic Site

This is one of those places where you wouldn’t have known it was here unless you were looking. The Thomas Stone National Historic Site is the site of, you guessed it, Thomas Stone. Well, it’s where he lived and where he’s buried so, yep, he’s still here. This guy was quite popular. He was voted into the continental congress a couple of times, signed the United States Declaration of Independence, and then was asked to join the congress, again, after the American Revolution. He declined, noting hiss wife’s failing health, though. Again, he must have been a very popular guy.

This accounts for the majority of the educational portion of the show. We made a few other stops along the way and took a nice walk here and there but nothing too note worthy, except for…

How many guardrail caches can Amanda get?

Since I’m usually driving, Amanda is usually hopping out get the quick ‘park and grab’ caches. And boy does she love a good guardrail cache. There’s just something about the five or so ways one can hide something on a guardrail that just infuriates her.

So, with the sun setting, and traffic flying by at the legal limit of 55 MPH (ha ha ha), we set off to collect the thirteen guardrail caches that live next to US 301. It’s all about the numbers!

Honestly, I’m a little disappointed. They could have totally crammed in a few extra caches as we passed several unused guardrails. I mean, seriously, who would do that?

Amanda was a trooper, though, and we got into a rhythm and we made quick work of all these hides. My favorite portion of this trip was when we pulled into an abandoned bar’s parking lot. The building was for sale and Harlan noted the place was called “Good Times”. Yes, you too can buy good times.

By the time we made it back home, we had logged twenty-three finds. Not a record, by any means, but it was a fun and educational day. Heck, we even got in a few miles worth of hiking to boot! Where will Geocaching take us next?

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A Trip to Cunningham Falls State Park

Unlike the previous few years, 2020 has gifted us with an actual Fall season. Early September saw temperatures fall into the mid-70Fs so by early October it was time to get out of the house and start seeing what the outside looks like again. Cunningham Falls State Park is part of a larger public lands area in the middle of Maryland near Thurmont. With many miles of hiking trails, several creeks, Geocaches, and camping, it’s a great place to spend some time decompressing and getting outside to explore.

We arrived after dark on Friday and set up camp. It’s amazing how quickly everyone just falls asleep when sleeping outdoors (or in a tent). Saturday morning came and after a quick camp breakfast we were on our way to see some waterfalls!

So, it’s been a bit dry here in this part of Maryland. I thought we’d be seeing a nice stream of tumbling water from on high but, nope. There was a drizzle of water that you could barely make out but definitely nothing to really make you go “wow!”.

It seems there were many other people with the same idea that we had: take a nice weekend and get out of the house. The parks were packed! We were lucky in that we knew where decent parking was but the parking lots in Catoctin Mountain Park were filled to the brim and people were parking on the sides of the roadway! In hopes of getting away from the crowds, we decided to venture into town and have brunch and then come back and hike.

I sent this picture to a friend saying that we were having breakfast on the trail. He noted that he couldn’t see the trail or trees from here. I told him that the table was once a tree.

Ahh, yes, brunch on the trail. Well, not quite. I stopped at the Mountain Gate Family Restaurant a couple years ago while in Thurmont for a search and rescue exercise and found the food to be quite tasty. The business is built around a rather large buffet that I was curious to see how they would be handling it during a pandemic. Amanda wasn’t too sure of the going to a restaurant that had a buffet but I assured her that you could order off of the menu and that if it appeared they weren’t taking things seriously then we could just leave.

The buffet they had actually turned into kind of a cafeteria-style serving area. You could see the food through the plexiglass, but someone on the other side of the counter would put the food on your plate for you. It was all done really well. They had also removed a lot of tables since I had been in there last, leaving lots of room for people to breathe. All-in-all I think they were doing a good job. Did I mention that the place is right next door to a car dealership that has Level 2 EV chargers? Lets just say it was win-win for us as both we and our car got fed.

After brunch, we headed back over to the park and the Cat Rock Trail. Parking wasn’t too bad in the lot along Foxville Road so we started our 1.1 mile (1.8 km) hike to Cat Rock from there. The kids, with full packs, had a blast running up the trail. It wasn’t too difficult of a hike for them as the elevation change was only an increase of approximately 528ft (181m). We stopped along the way and found several Geocaches that were fairly close to the trail.

Heading up the mountain.

Finding someone’s home along the trail. There are always learning opportunities no matter where you go.

I knew Harlan would be excited once we arrived at Cat Rock. Ever since our trip to Maine he’s been wanting to climb everything. The summit is a pile of quartzite boulders that are perfect for climbing. Harlan, a.k.a. Mountain Goat, climbed up and down and circled the summit so many times I lost count. Elise wanted to do the same thing but is just a little bit shorter.

She claims I helped her but in all actuality, I just made sure that I was there to catch her if she fell. She made her way from one boulder to another and, after a few minutes, found herself at the top of the rocks looking around at the almost unobstructed view of the mountain tops around. She was very proud of herself and so was I.

At the top!

Saturday night was supposed to be a little chillier than Friday night but certainly not cold. Friday night had been interesting as everyone seemed to shift around in the middle of the night to better align with whichever parent they wanted to be next to. Saturday night was arranged with the kids in the middle. At first light Harlan wanted to come snuggle and so he managed to make it into my sleeping bag. After a few minutes I decided to get up and start the day.

I swear it was not that cold.

All-in-all, it was a great weekend. We logged several miles of hiking trails, found twelve Geocaches, and climbed a pile of boulders! Most of all, everyone seemed to have fun along the way. Of course, now is the time to start thinking about the next adventure. Where might we go next time?

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Oh 2020

It’s not over yet, but I haven’t done much posting this year, so I thought I’d compile an update post. It started well. You know, back when we all left the house and interacted with other people without a second thought. Harlan played basketball over the winter and Elise thoroughly enjoyed cheering him on and playing with the other younger siblings. We enjoyed the county science expo as always, and both kids did great in swim class.

The day of the kids’ last swim class , schools shut down for two weeks due to the coronavirus. Haha. We didn’t bake any sourdough bread, but we made the best of it. The kids got artsy and spent a lot of time in the yard playing and we walked down to the neighborhood beach a lot.

Then the stay-at-home orders started dragging on for awhile, the state kept pushing back the date to return to school, and we all started losing it just a little bit.

Second grade turned into weekly postings of links to youtube videos and a hodgepodge of ungraded assignments. The Polymath Place came to the rescue and we signed both kids up for a variety of virtual classes. Elise didn’t quite have the attention span for it, but Harlan enjoyed interacting with people outside of the house and having fun learning. Elise’s gymnastics class also went virtual, which was akin to herding cats, but again, a wonderful outlet into the outside world.

We all enjoyed spending time outdoors, even if we didn’t wander far. We hiked in the woods behind the house, spent a lot of time down at the beach, strung up some hammocks, and even camped in the backyard.

And of course we fit in some classic pandemic life activities. Thankfully, amid it all the kids still got in a couple weeks of normalcy at outdoor camp over the summer. We also enjoyed a visit with Aunt Amy and Uncle Eddie. Unfortunately we lost the climbing dome (and a number of trees) to Hurricane Isaias, but luckily nothing hit the house. Others in our neighborhood were not so lucky.

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One Red Shoe

Apparently we have a quicksand-like substance on our beach. Amanda found it the other day, sinking up to her knee in the sand, and subsequently loosing her left red Croc shoe several feet below the surface. We went back in search of the red shoe a couple of days later but it had neither surfaced nor was detectable to prodding with a pole.

Fast forward to this today while the remnants of Hurricane Laura exit through our neighborhood, the morning beach combers came up with this:

The kids and I were riding down by the Bay to see if there was any overwash when we saw one of our neighbors heading back to his house with what appeared to be a red shoe tucked under his arm. I stopped him and asked about it and he recounted the story about a lady in the neighborhood who lost her shoe. He then recognized me as the lady’s husband and we had a good laugh about it. He had seen the picture posted on Facebook and had connected the two events and gone down to collect it!

So fear not, Amanda now has two red shoes, again.


Meet Fred(erika)

On Sunday, Amanda and the kids discovered this baby opossum next to the roadway in our neighborhood. Her mother had been hit by a car and, somehow, this little baby had survived the trauma. She likely had ten or so brothers and sisters but what happened to them is unknown. This was the only one we could find and she was squeaking away, fairly loudly, about a meter away from her mother and trying to crawl.

We carefully picked her up and tucked her into a small cardboard box with a towel at the bottom and then tried to figure out who to contact for assistance. Our local 911 center had some numbers but they weren’t the 24/7 numbers and, being a Sunday, went to voicemail. A call to a friend of mine yielded the Maryland Department of Natural Resources dispatch center phone number and had a list of several nearby wildlife rehabilitators. The first one didn’t take opossums and provided three new suggestions of people to call. In short order we touched base with a very concerned and knowledgable woman who instructed us to keep the baby warm with a heating pad and bring her right over. So within an hour of her snuggling into our little makeshift bed, Elise and Eric were on their way to California (the locality, not the state) to drop her off at the Raccoon Kingdom, a local wildlife rehabilitation facility where she would get the care she needed. She sqeaked the first half of the drive and then got quiet, much to our concern, but upon arrival it appeared had perhaps taken a nap.

During the paperwork process, Zsuzsanna, the lady that runs the facility, asked me if we had named the opossum. I told her no, not really, but that I had jokingly called it Fred as a generic-sounding name. Of course Fred, it turns out, is a girl, so when we received an update on our rescue the next day, Zsuzsanna had renamed her Frederika. We’ll try to keep up with Frederika’s progress and maybe we can see her again before she gets sent back into the wild.

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A quick trip to Hatteras Island

Whew, what a Spring and Summer it has been. We were ready to get out of the house, if only for a week, and enjoy some fun in the sun. So what could be better for social distancing than going to the beach where everyone can have their own little piece of sand and water!

Eric was already in North Carolina so the longer trip was for Amanda and the kids. Everyone met on Friday afternoon and we checked into our motel and pretty much fell asleep. The fun stuff would have to wait until Saturday. Island time being what it is, there was no big rush to get out and do stuff, though, right?

Well, I can tell you that swimming was a big hit. I’m not sure it mattered whether or not it was in the pool or in the sound (maybe there was some splashing around in the ocean, too?) but getting wet on the hot days was always welcome.

  • Elise and Harlan on a Boogie Board in the Pamlico Sound.
  • Elise and Harlan playing on a Boogie Board in the Pamlico Sound.
  • Elise in the swimming pool, wearing goggles, smiling.
  • Harlan in the swimming pool, with goggles, and a pool noodle nearby.
  • Elise and Eric floating on their backs in the pool.
  • Elise, with her face in the water, and Harlan, holding on to the side of the pool, enjoying themselves in the water.
  • Harlan wading in the Pamlico Sound.
  • Elise walking at the water's edge in the sand.
  • Elise walking at the water's edge in the sand.
  • Elise walking down the beach, alone.

And then there were the walks on the beach…

  • Eric holds Harlan up at the beach.

And there were a couple rounds of miniature golfing and go-carts…

And then the other, miscellaneous things that you don’t really plan to do but end up doing anyway…

We had a lot of fun, not sure we were ready to leave, but this place was booked up so, us without a tent, we had to leave. Hopefully we’ll be back soon.

I C E C R E A M !
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29 Caches on the 29th

Geocaching logo

Geocaching is an odd “sport”, if you will. It’s all about the numbers and then again, it’s all about the experiences. Today was a little bit of both.

The 29th of February is a special day for Geocachers. Those that are looking to put a find on every day of the year must wait four years for this day to come around so events are held, new caches are released, and general nonsense happens. Harlan had recently become interested in Geocaching, once again, and because he is now able to manage his own account and sign the log himself, we decided to maybe dip our toe back into the Geocaching world.

I thought it would be fun to try to find 29 caches on the 29th of February! That’s not necessarily a lot of finds but with two little kids in the back of the car, especially one that yells at you if you even consider trying to help buckle her in, this might be more of a challenge than one might think. Usually when one is out trying to do a numbers run they try to find a lot of park and grab (P&G) caches (basically a cache that you don’t really have to look for very hard and you can just drive up to, get out, sign the log, and move on to the next one quickly). I figured that Elise wouldn’t stand for this and the getting in and out of the car really wouldn’t make things fast so I went the entire opposite direction: we went for a hike. Yep, a numbers run included the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center with trails galore and the Beverly Triton Nature Park, again with lots of trails. This got the kids out of the car and we covered lots of distance looking for some really neat hides!

This isn’t to say we didn’t do some P&G caches as well. We actually did several of those on the way home after the sun had set and the kids were getting pretty tired. But that was okay, too. I’m happy to report that we ended the evening with 29 finds, along with a few DNFs. The kids had fun, which was important, and we were all able to get out and get some fresh air. So what’s on the agenda for next weekend? Maybe just one park and not the road trip… 🙂

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2019, A year in review.

Two thousand and nineteen… what a year. I’m almost not sure I want to re-live it to write about it, but lets see if we can pull together some of the good things that happened during the previous twelve months.


We are a snow-loving family (well, most of us). The first meaningful snowfall occurred on the fourteenth of January when five and a half inches of snow fell overnight. Another inch fell over the next day, and the kids had a lot of fun sledding and building things. We recently acquired a snow mold that makes penguins, and I had plans to leave the little guys on our neighbors’ front porches, but after being caught by one neighbor while crouching near his porch and finding out that another was in Florida for the season, my antics were short-lived. After the first day it warmed up just enough to melt just the top layer of snow on the sled run we cleared in the woods behind our house. Of course it refroze and made the hill very slick. Elise volunteered to sled down the hill first on day two and down she went. Fast. Really fast. Not to worry, though, as Amanda had piled some snow at the bottom of the hill to stop any wayward sleds… Elise hit that pile of snow, went airborne, narrowly missed a tree, and stopped just short of a large fallen tree. Expecting the worst, I started down the hill only to be met with a smiling, laughing little girl ready to go again.

In our continuing efforts to go green, we purchased an electric car in January, and have enjoyed being able to preheat the car in the garage on cold days, the quiet rides, and essentially using our home solar power generation to charge the car.

  • Elise, just in from the cold outside, with a big smile on her face.
  • Harlan hiding behind a green sled.
  • Eric, covered in snow.


The weather was warming up and with that Harlan wanted to join me on my search and rescue training. March saw him both hiding from a tracking dog and flanking an air-scent dog while searching for a “missing” subject.

Harlan also enjoyed participating in a Destination Imagination team at his school (in the kindergarten to 2nd grade noncompetitive division).


Boy was April a busy month for us! First, we went over to Chincoteague to watch NASA launch an Antares rocket! We spent a few days down there and visited the refuge. Renting bicycles seemed to be the best way to roam around the area, and so with Harlan and Eric on a tandem and Elise being pulled by Amanda, we visited a lighthouse, and rode all the way to the end of the peninsula where the public programs were being held. We camped the first couple of nights and then moved over to an inn, just in time for the rain to come.

At the end of the month, my sister Amy got married and we all went down to celebrate. Personally, I think it was all an excuse to get me dressed up.


Harlan had been complaining for awhile that he hadn’t lost any teeth, insisting he might be the last first grader in his entire school not to have lost a tooth. Finally, around the middle of the month he had a loose top tooth, which he yanked out on his own without any hesitation, leaving a nice gap in his smile.

We also ventured up to Ohio for the Memorial Day weekend. The kids had a ball at the various museums we visited and, of course, playing with their friend Jessie.


Harlan continued to lose teeth, making up for his perceived slow start. He also bid farewell to First Grade with good grades and maybe a few fond memories (except for all that reading and writing!).

Elise finally figured out that while I may be “Daddy” I’m not really a parent. I’m amazed it took her this long to realize.

We also took a trip to visit Grandma in June. The kids had a lot of fun picking blueberries and generally goofing around.

  • Elise bowing out of Aiki class.


July started by the kids participating in the neighborhood Fourth of July parade. This has become an annual event with the kids decorating their bikes and carts and doing a few laps behind the fire truck. Despite lots of pedaling experience, Elise had an issue with her (lack of) use of the brakes, opting instead for using a bush as a stopping mechanism. While she, as usual, was nonplussed, Amanda (who was close enough to see, but not to stop it) will never be the same.

We also went camping atop Apple Orchard Mountain. The trip was actually part of the APRS Golden Packet event, an amateur radio exercise to link up stations along the Appalachian Trail. That trip was really awesome, though, as the summit is the highest for several hundred miles around and our camping site was pretty much in the middle of a wildflower meadow.

Speaking of camping, we started started our New England Road Trip this month!

  • Looking out of the tent window, lots of trees and the moon.
  • lots of butterflies
  • Apple Orchard Mountain sign
  • Amanda, Eric, and Elise hiking down the mountain with another mountain in view.


August was pretty much limited to our New England Road Trip. We made it up to Maine and spent as much time hiking around as possible. Elise did very well with her hiking and Harlan did well with his navigation. They both ate a lot of wild blueberries and enjoyed two weeks of camping.


School started back just after Labor Day here in Maryland. Harlan started Second Grade while Elise moved up to The Jungle class in preschool. After our busy summer, September was just left for recovery and getting back into a routine.


Everyone needs a break in the middle of October, right? Team E (Eric and Elise) took a week and went to Grandma’s house to visit and do some exploring while Harlan and Amanda did some playing of their own. We met up at the end of our respective breaks to attend the North Carolina State Fair.


With the Fall colors popping, we ventured out to Shenandoah National Park to see the show for ourselves.

And then there was the hiking, the learning activities, the beach, the chickens, and whatever other kinds of trouble we could get into. Finally stringing up the 150-foot zip line Amanda purchased for our backyard was also a highlight of the month.


The end of November and beginning of December is birthday season for our household. Elise turned four while Harlan turned eight. They each had parties with their friends and had a good time.

Elise also had her preschool holiday program where she sang her heart out to “Crabs for Christmas”.

And for the first time in years, we stayed home for Christmas. No traveling or schedules. Just relaxing at home.

Just after Christmas we had friends come to visit for a few days. It’s always fun to catch up with those that we haven’t seen in a while and let the kids play together. We ended up the Smithsonian’s National Zoo where, in the chilly rain, we made a pretty good tour of the animals (admittedly with a focus on the indoor ones)


Christmas Morning 2019

Ahh yes, we probably all remember what it’s like to go to try sleep on Christmas Eve. You don’t really want to sleep but you know if you don’t Santa won’t come. Then you wake up in the middle of the night and you’re not sure if it’s too early to get up and check to see if he’s come or not. What you really need is one of those “a delivery has been made” notifications. Alas, technology has not kept up with demand on this front. And then you might have an obstacle waiting for you just outside your door…

Harlan was slowed, making it out of his room, on Christmas morning.

Lets just say that we heard the thump of a body hitting cardboard a fraction of a second after the jingle bells on the door knob went off. The bucket of “snow balls” also made a nice sound as they rained down on top of him and cascaded down the staircase. Ahh yes, Santa had come after all!

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