Did You Have a Scientific Summer Vacation? Callers share their scientific triumphs from the summer months. Did you find a fossil? Outfit your house with solar power? Grow a prize-winning pumpkin? Tell us about it.
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Did You Have a Scientific Summer Vacation?

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Did You Have a Scientific Summer Vacation?

Did You Have a Scientific Summer Vacation?

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You're listening to Talk of the Nation Science Friday, I'm Ira Flatow, as you know, Labor Day weekend is upon us. Where did the summer go? And if it's gone for you, you know, the traditional end of the summer, the unofficial end of the summer, maybe you did something really interesting during the summer on your vacation, you know. Maybe not good, not something, you know, either at you clean at the garage, that sort of thing. Maybe something having to do with science, and maybe you went on a hike. Maybe you hiked across and found a fossil or you added to your - you saw a bird in your backyard, and you added to your list of birds that you like to watch. Maybe you installed solar panels on your roof. You built a fusion reactor in your garage, or maybe took a sailboat trip on something like Pete Seeger's boat, The Clear Water, and you'd love to talk about what that was like. Well, that's what we want to hear about. We want you to phone in now, 1-800-989-8255, and tell us what you did on your summer vacation.

Also, on Second Life, go to Science Friday Island and sit down with the rest of the avatars, and you can send us a question there from Second Life, and here to help us navigate through your calls and maybe offer some ideas of her own is Lynn Brunelle. She's author of several books, including Pop Bottle Science and Camp Out, both published Workman, and she's also an Emmy Award winning writer for Bill Nye the Science Guy, and she has helped write the Science Friday Kid's Connection curriculum materials. Welcome back to the program, Lynn.

Ms. LYNN BRUNELLE (Author): Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: Did you do anything special on your summer vacation, a little sciency?

Ms. BRUNELLE: Oh, boy, did we?


Ms. BRUNELLE: We - my four year old and six year old and I are dabbled in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, Geology, and solar panels.

FLATOW: So, did you build a solar panel?

Ms. BRUNELLE: No. But you know, we did build. We built a solar pizza oven, made out of an old pizza box and aluminum foil and black construction paper, and we made nachos with the power of the sun.


Ms. BRUNELLE: Yeah, it's really cool. You can really, sort of harness that energy and show kids that the sun is a pretty strong thing.

FLATOW: No one tried to use that as a, you know, as one of those tanning machine, reflect face, reflector thing.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Yeah, you'd get a nice tan off that.

FLATOW: All right. Let's get a caller or two, and we'll discuss with people. Jeff in Denver. Hi, Jeff.

JEFF (Caller): How are you? Thank you for taking my call.

FLATOW: Alright. Go ahead.

JEFF: I went down to (unintelligible), an ecological center about two hour south of Cancun, and of course, probably was, we called the water quality research, studying wet lands that treats septic tank outflow before the water ends up in the bay there, where turtles, you know, nest and all of that, and it ends up this weathermen do a pretty good job, taking about 99 percent off coliforms out before the water goes out, but of course, the other research was, you know, the best beaches and the best tequila and such.

FLATOW: Well, then all work and no play, it's not a good. So, do you enjoyed it?

JEFF: That's right.

FLATOW: It was like a sort of educational experience for you.

JEFF: Absolutely, and it's working with some of the Yucatan State Officials in it, in an actual science lab, and I only got in on this by taking a biotechnology class, which is kind of piqued my interest. I'm a high school science teacher, but this was kind of just icing on the cake.

FLATOW: Lynn Brunelle, eco-tourism, sounds great.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Yeah, there you go. I was also thinking maybe that tequila got rid of the last 10 percent of those coliforms.

JEFF: There you go. Thanks a lot.

FLATOW: All right, Jeff. Thanks for calling. 1-800-989-8255. Let's go to Catherine in Berkeley. Hi, Catherine.

CATHERINE (Caller): Hi. How are you?

FLATOW: Hi there.

CATHERINE: I'm fine.

FLATOW: Go ahead.

CATHERINE: Yeah, I'm a professional linguist and I work - I've been working this summer for two months on a National Science Foundation contract. I'm a subcontractor for a project up at UC Davis, and what it is, is they're digitizing the field notes, which is about 487 shelf feed of field notes, 500 microfilms reel of a named John Peabody Harrington, who worked for the Bureau of (unintelligible) and collected information between 1900 and 1960 on over 100 Native American languages, and some of this, most of this languages no longer, you know, have living speakers, and so they're digitizing it, undoing the chronology of his works, so that researches, you know, we'll know where he was when, and some of his notes are still out there. You know, he stored them in places we don't know, so this is the only record of some of these languages.

FLATOW: How did you get on this trip?

CATHERINE: This - oh I started working with his field notes when I was in grad school over 30 years ago, and I got fascinated by the man. I'm actually writing a bio of him, but I got fascinated with him. He was like, you know, unusual man, a driven man, and he just spent his life, you know, trying to avoid the bureaucracy, and write down, you know, information on languages that he knew were dying, and he knew it was important to, you know, to keep a record of them.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Is he actually recording the language himself so he can hear how they sound?

CATHERINE: Well, yeah, he was always up on the latest technology. I mean, when he began his work, it was wax cylinders, so there's a collections of wax cylinders of some of his consultants speaking or singing, and then, he later he moved to aluminum disks, and he never got it to the magnetic tape recording era. He retired from the Smithsonian in 1954, I think it was. But yeah, I mean, his wax recordings and aluminum disks are slowly as the institutions that hold them can afford it, they're slowly, you know, transferring them into modern digital technologies, but most of it is handwritten field notes.


CATHERINE: And this man could transcribe phonetically just, you know, at a phenomenal speed.

FLATOW: Thank you, Catherine. It sounds fascinating.

CATHERINE: Yeah, that's a voice from the past.

FLATOW: Yeah, I never get to go on these sorts of things.

Ms. BRUNELLE: I don't either.

FLATOW: My field trip is looking for the grub worms that are eating my lawn.

Ms. BRUNELLE: And I do baking soda and vinegar volcanoes.

FLATOW: Yeah. The old fire extinguisher sort of thing. I remember.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Oh yeah, you know, we were very hot on volcanoes this summer and our sand box is pretty much transformed into a big, I would say, a baking soda and vinegar lab. We found that our best ones were, one which was surprising, is throwing a couple of extra things in. If you threw glitter and some dish soap in, you'll get some great reactions.



FLATOW: Wow. I'm writing and taking notes, but well, you know, of course, volcanoes are big on your list, you are out there near Seattle.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Yeah, that's true.

FLATOW: Want to keep an eye on those. Let's go to Kay in Charlotte, North Carolina. Hi, Kay.

KAY (Caller): Hi.

FLATOW: Hi there.

KAY: I went to the Galapagos this summer.

FLATOW: Oh, good for you.

KAY: Yeah. It was a wonderful trip. I had eight days on a boat that Sweet Sixteen, and 17 year old son came along, and it was just a phenomenal trip. Beyond all my expectations.

FLATOW: Did you get to go snorkeling at all?

KAY: Yes, I was in the water every day, in there with tons of wildlife, and you know, I'm not a big snorkeler, though I am now, and I've been around, you know, in the Bahamas, and places like that, where you see 20 fish and you say, hey that's a great day. Well, in the Galapagos, I would sometimes be in entire school of hundreds and hundreds of fish, and that was just snorkeling.

Ms. BRUNELLE: What was...

KAY: Pardon me.

Ms. BRUNELLE: What was the most surprising thing you saw?

KAY: I think the surprising thing for me was actually the way that all the wildlife was very comfortable with us, and...


KAY: Nothing ran away. Ever. Or swam away or flew away, and you know, I had birds sitting on my finger when I didn't mean to, you know, they just actually kind of fly over and be right next to you and as a joke I stuck my finger next to a branch once where the bird was and it hopped right on my finger.


KAY: So, the hard part was coming home, where everything flies away and runs away, where there, you know, you could sit right next to the sea lions on the beach while they're nursing, you know, literally, right next to them, and they'd come and play with you in the water, and it was a phenomenal experience. Beyond what I'd expected. I thought I'd be a great trip, but it was even better. Science educators. So, it was like going to Mecca for me.

FLATOW: I'm sorry you didn't have fun on that vacation.

KAY: Yeah, it was wonderful. I had a lot of fun. I learned a lot. It was a pretty diverse crowd on the boat itself. I've got to meet some people from different parts of the world, and practice my Spanish, which is always a good thing.

FLATOW: Yeah. Good luck to you. I'm jealous.

KAY: Thank you. You should go. You should go.

FLATOW: I've been there once. I remember once walking through all of those blue-footed boobies.

KAY: That's right. You have, I remember you mentioning that once. Yeah, it was wonderful. They just sit there and do your usual thing and don't mind that we're standing there staring at them, as if it was the usual stuff.

FLATOW: It's the only time I snorkeled with a penguin. As it flew underneath me, under water. You know. Did you see the penguins over there?

KAY: Yes, beneath that too. Yes, yes. We saw them both in and out, and they're just amazing in the water. They're so fast and there were sharks in the water with us. Just everything. It's just phenomenal. Made me want to go out and learn how to dive now.

FLATOW: It's like being on another planet.

KAY: Yes. Yes, and it's just phenomenal place and I hope that we can keep that way, you know, so that people can have this type of experience because it's a very, very special, special place.

FLATOW: All right, Lynn, you're signing up for your next trip with your kids?

Ms. BRUNELLE: Yeah, absolute great for kids.

KAY: It's good for kids, you know, after they get to the about 10 or 12, you know, I think, they would really get something out of it.

FLATOW: All right.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Is there anything poisonous out there that you don't want necessarily not moving when you come near?

KAY: Not really. It's pretty much a safe spot. I mean, every once in a while, you might find something that, you know, that could bite you, but it wouldn't kill you, you know. It's a very safe feeling. I mean, in the water, everyone's well, you might to worry about something that even then you know, we had black-tip sharks, and white-tip sharks near us. There were never any hammerheads near us, when we're in the water. I saw them from the boat many times, and they don't hurt you. There are just sort of scary looking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: And a 16-person boat is the way to do it. That's about the size.

KAY: Because it's all, and you don't go trooping the shore with 50 people.

FLATOW: Right.

KAY: You know, you go ashore with 15 people, and actually the last half of our trip, we only had seven people, and that was even better because it's one zodiac for all of the excursions and it's just, you have more of this feeling of not being around with a gazillion people if you're on a smaller boat.

FLATOW: Sounds great, Kate. Thanks for sharing.

KAY: Yeah. It was wonderful. Thanks. I'm enjoying the program.

FLATOW: See you on the next one. Thanks.

KAY: All right. Bye-bye.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. Let's see what other kinds of interesting things our listeners did. Jim in Napoleon, Ohio. Hi, Jim.

JIM (Caller): Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: Hi there.

JIM: I'm a big fan of your show and thanks for having me on.

FLATOW: Thank you. You're welcome.

JIM: I did a bike trip this summer in conjunction with my 25th reunion at Carleton College. I rode my bicycle back to Carleton and raised money for that school's sustainability revolving fund. That fund is what students on campus use to implement green projects. Not only do they have to be green, but they have to return money...

FLATOW: Right.

JIM: Within six years. And my classmates got behind my trip and the rest of the reunion got behind the trip and then the school and there is even a kid from Cleveland who rode his bicycle to Carleton after having read about my website. So, it was a great effort. We raised the money, and we raised a lot of awareness.

FLATOW: Made you feel good too. Didn't it?

JIM: Did well both, you know, emotionally and yes, I looked better in a bikini than I have a long time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: That leaves me out of this one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JIM: But it was a great thing. And we called it Jim's bright idea. And it was in conjunction, like I said with Carleton College's 25th reunion.

FLATOW: Well, thanks Jim.

JIM: And we're happy to do it.

FLATOW: Thanks for sharing.

JIM: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: Take care. Have a good...

JIM: Thank you.

FLATOW: Have a good labor day.

JIM: Thank you. You, too. Bye-bye.

FLATOW: Bye-bye. 1-800-989-8255 is our number. I suggest - here's a shared thought from Second Life, PR Mathis says, my best summer science vacation is to the invertebrates and conservation and education conference in Arizona, also called the Bugs in Bondage conference. Lot of people, good time, Lynn, to go away learn something.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Yes. Bugs in Bondage, I don't know how fun that is for the bugs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: I don't know it's a kind of movie title you want to stay away from.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: But you know, do you take your kids on the road when you - instead of you know...

Ms. BRUNELLE: Yes, we go - you know, we've been going camping quite a bit. That's always just such a fun thing to get out and get away from home but also be in the woods. And we've been at the beach quite a lot too. So - other things...

FLATOW: The beach is good.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Like rock collections and all sorts of things. But you just seem - talking about biking, you know, there's science in that you know, we've been - my six-year-old Kai just got off his training wheels. So he's been going over jumps and doing a lot of experiments in physics.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: And the landings are tough.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Exactly. He got a lot to work with, with gravity.

FLATOW: That's good. Ingrid in Warren, Illinois on Talk of the Nation Science Friday from NPR News.

INGRID (Caller): Hello, Ira.

FLATOW: Hi, Ingrid.

INGRID: We had a wonderful experience this summer, and it's still going on. And her name is Ms. Frederico. And she's a little bird that fell out of her nest when she had no feathers on. And I found her in my garden with her legs straight up and looking pitiful. And I call my brother who is a bird expert in Sweden, and I said, what can we do? And he said, I don't think very much but you can try to warm the bird up and we did.

And I'll tell you something, she is wonderful. It's now three months later, and she's a little sparrow and she's totally, totally, totally in love with us as we are with her. And I have five poodles, and she takes rides on their back and when they lie down on the grass, she lies down next to them. And the cardinals come when we feed the bird out on the lawn, they come and Oreos and all sorts of - it's a peaceful kingdom here, it's just wonderful. And you're welcome to come. I'm a good cook, and I'd love to take care of you.

FLATOW: Thank you, Ingrid. We'll take you up on that. Thanks for calling.

INGRID: Thank you.

FLATOW: You're listening to Talk of the Nation, Science Friday from NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow here with Lynn Brunelle who is author of several books including "Pop Bottle Science" and "Camp Out" published by Workman. Taking care of a bird, that's an interesting thing.


FLATOW: You know, animals hurt animals.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Yeah, yeah. You know, we live out - sort of in the woods, we've got quite of a variety of wildlife that comes through but we have a family of pheasants that we've been watching grow up right in the backyard which is nice. And it's especially nice since we've got quite a lot of coyotes and the pheasants seem to be surviving. So that's all good.

FLATOW: That is good. Let's go back to the phones. To Iver (ph) in Brookings, South Dakota. Hi, Iver.

IVER (Caller): Hi. How are you today?

FLATOW: Fine. How are you?

IVER: I'm doing great. I was just trying to tell you about that every year around this time of year, we head out of town. Brookings is not a big city, but big enough that the lights just about wash out the Milky Way. And so we head about 30 miles out of town and just stand and look at the Milky Way - you know I grew up in St. Louis, other big cities and you never see it there, but it just - you get some really good dark sky, and it is just amazing. Just clearly amazing.

FLATOW: Spectacular.

IVER: We try to do that this time of year every summer.

FLATOW: So you have to say, you go to the same spot every year?

IVER: Yup, yup, because we know the way and know the lay of the land how to not trip over things on the way back when we get...

FLATOW: Yes. Do you bring any binoculars or telescopes to look at Jupiter or good planets out now? Things like...

IVER: Did not take the telescope out with us this time but I've been out there at other times, and they're taking pictures of Jupiter actually which is...

FLATOW: Yes. It's great.

IVER: With the new web cams, it's just a fantastic thing.


FLATOW: Well, thanks for calling.

IVER: Yeah.

FLATOW: Good luck to you. Good luck next year doing it.

IVER: Thanks a lot.

FLATOW: Lynn, is the Aurora visible where you guys are, at all?

Ms. BRUNELLE: I haven't seen it. To be honest with you, I suspect that every once in a while it's got to be up there but you know, we live in a pretty cloudy part of the country. So, if it's up there, it may be behind a little curtain of clouds.

FLATOW: So, you haven't seen it, winter time, summer time or...

Ms. BRUNELLE: I don't. No, you know we've got quite a great view of like the meteor showers, the Perseids which are going on soon, aren't they?


Ms. BRUNELLE: I mean, are the Perseids happening?

FLATOW: I think we missed them.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Did we miss them? And you know, the moon, and we get to see the planets on those clear nights. But no, I've never seen those but I would love to.

FLATOW: Yes. I think the Leonids will be coming out - I think that's one...

Ms. BRUNELLE: It's the Leonids in August?

FLATOW: I think they're in November.

Ms. BRUNELLE: November.

FLATOW: Believe me we'll get 400 phone calls telling me, you screwed up the timing of the meteor showers, you know but that's a great thing to do, to go out in the meteor showers in the summer time and you know, lie down on lounge chair and just look up at the sky and stay out late.

Ms. BRUNELLE: It's just - you know, even if when there aren't meteor showers, it's really fun because chances are you're going to see one.


Ms. BRUNELLE: And that's fun for the kids especially on hot nights.


Ms. BRUNELLE: Lying on top of your sleeping bag and look up.

FLATOW: They get to stay out late.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Exactly.

FLATOW: Yes. OK. And they get rewarded. Hang with us, Lynn. We're going to take a short break, come back and talk more with Lynn Brunelle. Your phone calls, 1-800-989-8255. What kind of sciencey naturey things, technology things - maybe you built a robot in your basement or you built an airplane in your living room, and you can't get it out of there now. I know people who have done that. Stay with us, we'll be right back.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to Talk of the Nation Science Friday. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about your summer of science. What did you do on your summer vacation? And to me, here's Lynn Brunelle, she is author of several books including "Pop Bottle Science" and "Camp Out" both published by Workman and on "Pop Bottle Science" you get a pop bottle. Don't you, Lynn?

Ms. BRUNELLE: You get a pop bottle and you get measuring spoons and a measuring thing and you got balloons, you got all sorts of stuff that you can do. There's 79 different science experiments you can do with the pop bottle in the book. It's pretty fun. We go through a lot of pop bottles in ours.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: I have the seen the recyclable bin. OK. Let's go to the phone. Let's go to Ellie (ph) in Bloomington, Minnesota. Hi, Ely.

ELLIE (Caller): Hi!

FLATOW: Hi, there.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Hi, Ely.

ELLIE: I'm just calling from Ely, Minnesota. And we went to the boundary water in Ely this summer. And, I learned how to use a compass to find my portages and the lake.

Ms. BRUNELLE: How fun.


ELLIE: And, I used - I learned how to use a magnifying glass to car - or to burn my name into a locking stick with the power of the sun.

Ms. BRUNELLE: That's cool.

FLATOW: Ellie, did you ever hear of Albert Einstein?


FLATOW: You know, it's a compass that got him started on his career in science.

ELLIE: Mm hmm.

FLATOW: So, maybe you - so where would you go next on another trip? What would you like to do for your next science trip?

ELLIE: Well, I'd like to climb a mountain with my grandpa.

FLATOW: I love rocks. Do you collect rocks at all when you go climbing?

ELLIE: Well, I like looking at quartz and stuff.

Ms. BRUNELLE: That's pretty cool. Did you know you could make your own compass? Did you know you could take a magnet, a bar magnet and a needle and you rub the magnet from that pole end of the needle to the point about 20 times in the same direction and then place it on a cork that's floating in water, and it will always go north south.

ELLIE: I didn't know that.

Ms. BRUNELLE: You should try it. See if it works.

ELLIE: OK. Thank you.

FLATOW: Thanks for calling and good luck. Have a...

ELLIE: Thank you.

FLATOW: Good holiday weekend.

ELLIE: You too.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. That kid had a good time.


FLATOW: Compasses are great. The simple little devices are terrific.

Ms. BRUNELLE: You know, science is everywhere. Tell me about Einstein and the compass.

FLATOW: Well, he always wrote that he - I think it was his uncle who gave him a compass and this was the first - his little foray into science when he was a little kid, something like five or six, something like that or maybe even younger like three years old. And that got him thinking about nature, you know, and magnetism of things like that.

Ms. BRUNELLE: You know, we took the kids to a Legoland this summer. And did you know that there's a huge Lego head of Albert Einstein?

FLATOW: No kidding?

Ms. BRUNELLE: That made me so happy to see it, I got to tell you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Well, I agree with you, you know. It's good to see that there are at least some scientific influences on people who are making stuff out of Lego.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Absolutely. Absolutely. That was - yeah, I mean how wonderful is that as an icon that kids are...


Ms BRUNELLE: Are going to recognize and you know, even if it's Lego that makes them remember, I think it's wonderful.

FLATOW: Let's go to Sancha (ph) in Telluride. Hi, Sancha. Is it Sancha?

SANCHA (Caller): It is. It's Sancha.

FLATOW: Hi. Welcome to science Friday.

SANCHA: Thanks. So I love listening to Ellie just now. She's really cute. And what I do is I run a science educational organization in Telluride and we spend the summer with kids like Ellie doing projects that I think, Lynn would sort of relate to. We do a program called punk science all summer, and it's geared towards kids from four to 10. And we learn about thermodynamics by studying the science as team and playing with putt-putt boats. We do - we scoop water bug out of our pond, we just do lots of fun science experiments with kids all summer. And just been, this is my first summer doing that and I spent such a fun summer with all these kids, you know exploring and having fun.

Ms. BRUNELLE: How fun. Do you get the water-striders? The ones that walk right on top of the surface of the water?

SANCHA: Yes. We were looking at those. We were - let's see, we shot off some rockets.

Ms. BRUNELLE: How fun.

SANCHA: To think about the science of explosion. And, what else? We studied polymers by making dew and slime...

Ms. BRUNELLE: Slime.

SANCHA: Yes. So, it's you know, it's fun to just - what I like to call renegade science, just have fun.

FLATOW: That great.

SANCHA: You know, experiment, blow stuff up. Don't take it so seriously.

FLATOW: You need Lynn's "Pop Bottle" science book.

SANCHA: Yeah and "Camp Out."

Ms. BRUNELLE: Yeah, and get those some of those up.

SANCHA: And that too, yeah.

FLATOW: Well, thanks for calling, Sancha. And have a good holiday.

SANCHA: Thank you so much.

FLATOW: Let's see if we can get one more call in here before we have to go. Daniel in Sycamore, Illinois. Hi, Daniel.

DANIEL (Caller): Hi, how are you sir?

FLATOW: Hi, there.

DANIEL: Yes. I have an all obsidian spear-point and funnel scraper and arrowhead collection that I got from my friend, Vincent Longwind, bean means, gentlemen. It means Vincent, the hot dragon, house of happiness and I put them on temporary loan to the local natural history museum here in Sycamore, Illinois which makes me a Syca-moron and I've been a long-time listener. It's my first time caller and I'm so nervous I got to go. I think I'll just drop off the air. God bless you all.

FLATOW: All right, Daniel. Long time first time. But that's interesting. He actually loaned his collection.

Ms. BRUNELLE: That's great.

FLATOW: To a museum so more people can enjoy it.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Yeah. That's just cool.

FLATOW: Then, you know, some people like to hide them in jars or put them on, you know, in their - in a shelf in their room. But that's a great thing to do is to loan your collection.

Ms. BRUNELLE: I think so too.

FLATOW: Lynne, I want to thank you for taking time to be with us and I hope you're getting out a little bit more this weekend.

Ms. BRUNELLE: Yeah. We're planning on it. It doesn't end at our house.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRUNELLE: Thank you so much for having me on.

FLATOW: You're welcome. You're welcome. Lynne Brunelle, author of several books including "Pop Bottle Science," you get the pop bottle and everything with it. It's a great book and "Camp Out" both published by Workman.

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