Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cool Christmas in Nashville

Hi Kids,

As you know from my postcard, Miss Elaine and I have been to Nashville, Tennessee. The whole town is getting ready for the holidays and I got to see some really neat things. One was an exhibit at the Opryland Hotel. Called ICE, it was really cool. I mean REALLY cool -- 9 degrees Fahrenheit. As you can tell, the exhibit stars all the Peanuts characters -- made out of ice.

And Snoopy and Charlie Brown weren't the only things made out of ice. This is an ice slide. Miss Elaine took me down twice! She wanted a friend to take our picture but the camera batteries were getting too cold and didn't work very well.

Isn't Snoopy's doghouse neat? The ice carvers were from China and worked day and night for over a month to get ICE ready.

At the end of the Peanuts display, there was an icy manger scene.

After we saw ICE, we had dinner then went to the Radio City Christmas Show. The stars of the show were the Rockettes -- tall, beautiful dancers who can kick really high. Two of them posed for a picture with me. The one on the left graduated from the University of Oklahoma but now she lives in New York -- except when she's traveling with a show like this one. Do you think I'm too short to be a Rockette?



Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mobile A-museum-ments

Hi Kids,

As you probably know from my postcards, Miss Elaine and I have been to Mobile, Alabama. We did lots of things and saw lots of museums. We started with the Museum of Mobile -- a history museum. They had a special exhibit of antique toys and I posed with these bears which are over 100 years old. They had to stay in a case but I got to sit on top of it.

While we were there, some pirates dropped in. Don't you think this pirate looks like Captain Jack Sparrow from "Pirates of the Caribbean"?

Next we went to the Carnival Museum. The first Mardi Gras in the New World was held in Mobile in 1703. Mardi Gras is a really big party that lasts for a couple of weeks. People dress up in beautiful costumes and have parades and dances. That's me on the knee of the giant jester in front of the museum.

The costumes in the museum were really pretty. The queens have fancy dresses and really long trains. Not like on the railroad -- this kind of train is a long dress part that drags behind when the queen walks. This was my favorite because I love pink.

The kings and queens have crowns, too. Some of them were in the museum but I didn't get to try one on.

I did get to pose like a queen for this picture.

Our last museum visit for the day was at the Exploreum -- the science museum. The had a special exhibit with Bob the Builder. The had lots of things to try. I love museums.



Friday, November 13, 2009

Sandy Claws

Hi Kids,

Miss Elaine and I just got back from Las Cruces and southeastern New Mexico. This was my favorite place. White Sands National Monument protects a big chunk of the world's largest area of gypsum sand dunes. Most sand is made of silica or other minerals and can range from yellow and light brown to black. The sand here is made of gypsum (hydrous calcium sulfate), a white, soft mineral that is often used in making the wallboard used in building our houses.

White Sands covers about 275 square miles. The sands come from playa lakes -- lakes fed totally by rainfall -- that dry up when the water evaporates. The minerals in the water are left behind and eventually break down and are carried by the wind.

The dunes don't stay in one place -- they shift with the winds. In some areas the dunes move 30 feet in one year. That's probably about the same distance as from the front to back of your classroom.

Are you surprised to see plants in the desert? The plants have to have special adaptive qualities to survive here. If they can get their roots down far enough, they can get to water that is stored under the desert floor.

Miss Elaine was very interested in all these details. Me -- I just wanted to slide down the dunes!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Vanilla -- International Bear

Hola Kids,

I'm sure you know that's Spanish. I've been to Spain! Miss Elaine and I went to the region of Galicia which is in northwest Spain. We spent several days in the capital -- Santiago de Compostela. This is a very old city! The cathedral here is almost a thousand years old!

I'm sitting in the middle of the Plaza de Obradoiro. Lots of things go on here -- people meet and visit here and musicians often play music, hoping that people will donate money.

Lots of things here are old and historic but the city also has very modern areas. The picture at the top of this post is an aerial photo -- Miss Elaine took it out of the plane window. Can you see all the wind turbines on the mountain tops?

Our hotel is very old. In 1499 King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ordered it to be built as an inn and a hospital for pilgrims coming to visit the cathedral. In 913, a peasant found some bones and it was determined that they were the bones of Saint James, one of Jesus' disciples. People came from far away to see the tomb. Even today, people come to this church -- often walking many miles. Today the inn is an elegant hotel.

This is the living room area of the hotel.

And this is me sitting on the mantel above the fireplace!

Miss Elaine and I started exploring as soon as we got here. When we got hungry, we stopped at an outdoor cafe by the hotel. We had a great view of the cathedral.

I made a new friend. This girl was from Germany. She loved me and would like to have taken me home but Miss Elaine explained that I was a working bear and you needed me to help you learn geography. She was sad but she understood.

Love, Vanilla

Friday, October 16, 2009

Vanilla Goes Gator

Hi Kids,

As you may already know, I've been to Beaumont, Texas, which advertises itself as "Texas with a little something extra!" Well, there's lots extra.

When I found out that our first stop involved alligators, I absolutely refused to get out of the car! I'm just a little bear and I was afraid I would look like an hors d'oeuvre! In case you don't know -- that's French for a little snack. It's pronounced or-durve and it literally translates "outside of the work" meaning outside a regular meal.

Miss Elaine wasn't afraid so she went with our hostess Miss Stephanie to meet Gary Saurage who owns Gator Country Adventure Park. A lot of the alligators here are ones he captured after they went somewhere they shouldn't -- like somebody's back yard. Big Al is the king of the gators at Gator Country. He weighs 1000 pounds and is over 13 feet long!

This is Chubs. Miss Elaine said he wasn't exactly cuddly, but he was born with a bad jaw and he can't close his mouth so she wasn't really in any danger of getting bitten.

As you can see, there are also other reptiles here. Gary has 236 alligators, 7 crocodiles, 9 caimans, 4 snakes and lots and lots of turtles.

I didn't want to get near any of them. I did let Miss Elaine pose me for this picture. That's a real alligator head -- but the rest of him was long gone! This wasn't scary but it is about as close as I wanted to get to the real thing!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Vanilla Goes to Beavers Bend

Hi Kids,

It's been a long time since I've written to you! We've had company. Miss Elaine's daughter, Miss Zoe, arrived from England and we've been having a great time. She's gone home now so I have a LITTLE bit of time to write before Miss Elaine and I head for the Big Thicket!

Beavers Bend is about as far southeast in Oklahoma as you can get. It's really pretty with low mountains and lots of pines. We stayed at Lago Vista Bed and Breakfast and I got to go to the hot tub with Miss Zoe and the Lago Vista cat, Sam.

This wasn't my whole breakfast -- just the starter! Miss Chandra fixed French toast and bacon, too. I may have to go on a diet.

Then we met Ranger Robert Bastarach who led us down to the Red Slough (just say "slew") Wetlands where we met Biologist David Arbour. They know everything about birds and animals that live in the area. We even saw two roseate spoonbills -- really cool birds that look like flamingos except they don't have a curved beak. Their beaks are long and at the end, they flatten out like a spoon.

Then they showed us an old alligator nest. I was really glad the mama and her babies weren't at home! Did you know we had alligators in Oklahoma? I didn't, but I do now!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Driving Miss Elaine

I learned something today. Don't decide you're not going to like something until you try it. This has been a tough trip for me. Miss Elaine has been in meetings a lot and I've been sitting in the
hotel room. Yesterday we had an excursion. We were going to see the sights here in Montgomery, Alabama, including the Hyundai car plant. Car plant!!!! I thought it sounded
boring and so did Miss Elaine but she said we had to go.

Boy, were we wrong. It was the coolest ever! I got to see -- and sit in -- some new cars and we got on a tram and toured the plant. Did you know car bodies start out with a big roll of steel -- like a giant paper towel roll?

Then they go through a machine that cuts them into shapes; then into another machine called a press. It's in two parts -- the flat piece lies on top of the bottom part and the top part of the machine raises 'way up then smashes down -- like 52 elephants stomping on it. The piece comes out shaped like a door or a trunk lid or whatever piece they're making!

The plant is full of robots -- not like R2D2 but just bendy arms with suction cups on the end. They pick up the pieces and fit them together. It takes 16 and a half hours to make a car -- including the 9 and a half hours it takes for the paint to dry!

After the car is made, it gets tested on the test track -- every single car! This plant makes 900 cars a day. Can you see Miss Elaine and me sitting in the cute red Sonata? We really liked that car.

So I had a great time and so did Miss Elaine. I guess we both learned something! Don't say you don't like something -- like broccoli or visiting a car plant -- if you haven't tried it!



Saturday, September 5, 2009

I'm a Girl!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mrs. Kysar's class. I love my name -- Vanilla -- and I'm glad I'm a girl. I'm so glad I'm going to be sharing my adventures with you this year -- I think we'll learn a lot about the world. Do you like the necklace Miss Elaine made for me? I do!



Saturday, August 15, 2009

New Bear in Town

Hi Kids!
I'd like to introduce myself -- but I can't! I don't have a name! I don't even know if I'm a boy bear or a girl bear. I'm waiting for you kids in Mrs. Kysar's class to name me -- it will be such a relief! Right now when anyone asks me my name, I just growl at them. I know that's not very nice -- I'm really a friendly bear -- I just need your help.

I'm going to be traveling with Miss Elaine this year and I'll write back to you and send you pictures of the places I've been. And I'll blog, too, so you can check on me when you have computer time.

Miss Elaine took me on my first trip this week. It was just a short one, so I could get used to traveling. We went to Sand Springs -- that's just west of Tulsa. Can you find it on your Oklahoma map?

We went to Discoveryland! -- a really cool place with an outdoor theater. A nice cowboy let me ride on his horse. We had a really good dinner and then we watched an Indian dancer. His name is Bear O'Field. He belongs to the Cherokee and Creek Nations. He went to his first pow-wow when he was three days old and has been dancing since he was old enough to walk. He made his own costume. Can you see the bears on it? He told me that "bear" in the Creek language is "nokuse" (it sounds like nah-goo-see).

We learned a lot at Discoveryland. We learned about the Pony Express. Did you know that you can get a post card at Discoveryland and the Pony Express man will mail it for you? Miss Elaine would have let me send you a card but she couldn't remember the address. I can see that she's going to need my help a lot this year.

After the Pony Express man rode off, we watched some singers and dancers. Then the main show came on. It was the musical Oklahoma! by Rodgers and Hammerstein. That's where our state song came from. It was a good play but I got sleepy so Miss Elaine let me burrow into her bag and take a nap.

I can't wait to come see you. Please be thinking of a good name for me!



Sunday, May 17, 2009

Teddy Hits the Highway

Dear Kids,
I'm glad I don't have to drive a car here! For one thing, the British drive on the OTHER side of the road -- and their cars have the steering wheels on the other side of the car. Miss Elaine tried to drive in England once, but she kept driving up the curb! Fortunately, Miss Zoe is a very good driver. Even though she had a driver's license in Oklahoma, she had to take driving lessons here.

Some of the roads are very narrow -- like this one. You have to take turns going -- and if you're coming through and you meet someone, one of you has to back up! This road is in Mousehole. They pronounce it Mou (like ouch) zul. It's about five miles from Penzance and also on the coast. Here's a picture of the harbor -- or, harbour, as they spell it here.

Another day we went to a cider farm and mill near Gweek. The names sound funny to us but they probably mean something in Cornish -- the language people used to speak here. I know a few words. Pol is pool, tre is town and pen is head. Penzance actually means Holy Head. Lots of people have names that start with those words -- there's a rhyme that says "Tre, Pol and Pen, by these you know true Cornish men." Here are some of my other favorite town names -- Water Ma Trout and Praze-an-Beeble.

Anyway, back to the cider farm. We took a tractor ride through the apple orchards -- they were in bloom and very pretty. They have about 3000 trees -- a lot of different kinds of apples, too. They make apple juice and cider (I wonder what the difference is) and fermented beverages and jams, jellies, chutneys and mustards.

This is me in a barrel of apple juice bottles. Miss Elaine didn't let me drink any. I think she was afraid I would spill it on my shirt.

Here's one thing I've noticed. English people love animals -- particularly dogs. We see lots of dogs everywhere we go -- but they're all very polite and people keep them on their leashes so they don't run loose and scare children and small bears.



Sunday, May 10, 2009

Teddy on the Town

Thursday was rather quiet. We walked to town -- about a mile -- and up this street, Causeway Head, to the farmers' market. It was windy and pretty chilly -- not many stalls set up, not nearly as many as the Edmond Farmers' Market. Still, it's early in the growing season so there's not much for sale yet.

That afternoon we walked in the other direction -- to Newlyn. About a hundred years ago, Newlyn was a famous arts and crafts center -- lots of painters and potters and copperworkers. The arts kind of died out here for a while. Michael Johnson is an artist who works in copper and bronze. He let us see his workshop. He likes to do sculpture but he does all sorts of things -- even made the belt buckles and other metal things for the movies "Pirates of the Caribbean" both Two and Three. The big piece behind me in the picture is called a monstrance. Do you see that he's made some of the rays out of pieces of silverware? He says that art makes us see things in new ways. He must be right. I would never have thought that my fork was for anything but eating!

Yesterday was a big day. We went to the National Seal Sanctuary. Did you know there are 33 kinds of seals? There are six kinds at the Seal Sanctuary -- grey seals (the only kind that live in the ocean off of Cornwall), common or harbour seals, Patagonian sea lions, California sea lions and South African fur seals. They also have the only Arctic hooded seal in the United Kingdom. I don't remember how he happened to come here. The Seal Sanctuary works to rehabilitate injured or sick animals and then release then back into the ocean. They tried to release Sahara, the hooded seal. They drove him north to Scotland and turned him loose hoping he would find his way to the Arctic. Nope, he got turned around and wound up on the coast of Spain so they went and got him. He was very thin and not very well. So now he lives at the Seal Sanctuary where he is safe.

I can't tell seals and sea lions apart. They both belong to the pinniped family, along with walruses. Seals have little ear holes and sea lions have little ear flaps. Do you think this is a seal or a sea lion? Miss Zoe says it is a seal and she's right about most things.

One of the seal trainers took me in to meet Flipper, a grey seal. I had a good time at the Seal Sanctuary. I wish you had been there with me.

Miss Elaine took this picture out the car window on the way home. Look at the roof -- it's made of thatch. In the old days, lots of houses had thatched roofs -- now only a few are left. Thatch is made from bunches of water reeds or wheat straw. Did you know that last names often reflected occupations -- so, hundreds of years ago, if a man worked on roofs, he might be known as John the Thatcher, or John Thatcher. Can you think of some other names that might have referred to work?

I love England and I'm even learning to speak English! In America we speak English, too, but sometimes we use different words for the same thing. It can be quite confusing. Here are some words the English people use and the words we use:
chips: in England these are like French fries
crisps: we call them potato chips
biscuits: we call them cookies
lorry = truck
car park = parking lot
lift = elevator
pavement = sidewalk
pram = baby buggy
nappy = diaper
Did you notice the sign by the thatched house? In America, it would say "Yield."