Field Work Friday – What Lives in a River?

This week we headed off to Little River Regional Park, a great park just outside Durham to find out what lives in a river.


Park Manager Mike DiFabio met us bright and early to begin our hike.   The weather was rather cool and it rained hard yesterday, so we had a smallish group – but these boys were big on energy.

Though cool, it turned out to be a beautiful day for a hike.

The boys collected leaves while hiking to the river, and when we arrived, Mike helped the boys identify all of their leaves.  Did you know that some trees sport two different leaves??

Some of them were really interested in this.

After talking briefly about what a river is, where it goes, and how different animals might use it, Mike passed out the tools we could use.  He had fish nets and collection vials for each person, as well as bigger tanks for storing any creatures we might find.  There were also books to help us identify our finds.

This was a huge hit.  What little boy doesn’t  want free reign to play in a river?

The kids were creative where they looked for specimens …

and they searched hard to find the creatures of the river!

Over the course of our visit, we found baby fish and a small toad.

A beetle required the identification book …

(photo taken by and used with permission of Susan Byerly)

and so did this tiny snail.

After packing up our river tools, we decided to finish the hike via a longer route that would keep us by the river.

Mike continued to teach us about nature as we hiked, pointing out this beaver trail …

and teaching us about how beneficial even this dead tree could be for the forest.

Upon returning to the pavilion, we were hungry and happy to eat our lunches!  It was truly a gorgeous day to be outside, though, and we learned not only about the river, but the leaves, the trees, the history of the area, and the animals who live there, too.

If you live in the Durham area, be sure to check out Little River Park.  If you don’t, look for park information for places near you.

Who knows what kind of hidden natural treasures could be just around the corner?

Field Work Friday – The Windmill Farm Bake Shop

I’ve been trying for several years to find a great bakery who could give us a tour, so I was super excited when a friend told me about Windmill Farm Bake Shop in South Boston, Virginia.  A family-run business, they not only bake cookies and breads, but they also sell soup, run a deli, and have their own catering business.  Today they have an order for over 600 ham biscuits!

This family knows their stuff.  We began our tour by walking to the kitchen past this table full of amazing cookies.


Even though it was late in the day, the sandwich orders just kept coming.  They typically make over over 400 sandwiches each day!


Next we headed to the doughnut area.  This is the proofer, where the dough rises …


and then they’re fried and iced here.


This industrial oven was next.  The kids loved how both doors opened when you touched one.


This gentleman was mixing up a huge batch of monster cookies.  Even the dough smelled amazing, and the finished product was a huge hit with the kids afterwards.


Josh showed us another, even bigger mixer next.  The kids all wanted to know more about the paddle, so he let them hold it and then showed how the mixer worked.


Josh showed us this freezer, totally loaded with pie crusts.  He said that several employees had made all of these crusts today – and that they wouldn’t last very long.


The Bake Shop’s items are baked fresh each morning, and the employees begin baking at 4:30 AM to be ready for their 7:30 AM opening.  To streamline the morning process, some products are prepared and refrigerated overnight, then baked when the employees arrive.  One beautiful girl was preparing this muffin batter while we visited her kitchen.  Even the raw product looks good!


We all thought that this machine was especially neat  It’s a bread slicer!  Josh showed us the guards and the many knives that slice the bread.  One girl wanted to know about that bar that runs horizontally about halfway up the length of the knives.  Josh’s thoughts were that perhaps the guard is adjustable for different sized loaves.  I can’t image a loaf of bread that big, though – can you?


This machine is a pie crust stamper.  Prepared pie crust is placed on a round disk  on the base, and then the press comes down and presses the dough into the pie pan, fluting the edges and everything.  That must be much simpler than the pressing and cutting and fixing I always have to do!


This cool machine is a yeast roll roller.  When a large amount of dough is put onto the disk shown in the picture above, the machine then stamps out rolls and rolls them into the perfect shape.  Amazing!


Josh generously gave each child his choice of a free cookie upon completion of the tour.  


Both of mine opted for monster cookies, and they loved sitting at a big table with their friends over cookies.  We came home with a fair assortment of the bakery’s products to sample and can’t wait to be back in their neck of the woods.

Should you ever travel through the southern Virginia area, be sure to stop in at Windmill Farm Bake Shop.  You won’t be sorry!

And, of course, now we’re going to learn how to make our own versions of some of these goodies.  Isn’t that the logical educational path after a field trip?  😉

Field Work Friday – The Water Treatment Plant

Kids’ brains are like sponges, and they learn from everything they see all around them.  They’re insatiably curious, too, and want to know ‘why’ everything is and ‘where’ it came from and ‘how’ it got to be that way.
So, to follow up with the questions I received after we studied what grows in a river, we decided to find out how that river gets clean enough for us to drink.
This week we visited the water treatment plant.
One of the first things we learned was that the treatment plant’s original purpose included not just cleaning water, but also to be a bomb shelter. 
The things you learn on a field trip!
We learned that water leaves the reservoir and travels through a large pipe into this cement tank.  
From there, it’s taken to a large tank where it is stirred and has chemicals added to it.  These chemicals are “sticky” and adhere to dirt particles, making them heavy enough to fall to the bottom during the next procedures.
The water flows through pipes, filters, and tanks underneath these concrete walkways.  Because the water is so heavy, it can only be contained in cement – and the pathways over the tanks are necessary for support.
The water flows through this large cement tank, where the dirt particles become heavy and fall to the bottom of the tank.  It takes four hours for the water to be processed from the time it enters the first tank until it is ready to leave the building.
Repairs are made here …
and the valves can be opened here.
All of the valves are controlled here.
The water is tested after each stage of treatment by a chemist to make sure that the chemical levels meet safety standards.
Finally, the sludge water comes out here, to the lagoon.  Eventually the clearer water is skimmed off the top and taken to the waste treatment plant to be cleaned.
Our tour guide was fantastic about answering all of our questions, and we got to climb all over that plant! 

We learned that there’s a lot more to cleaning water than meets the eye – and that it’s a very precise science.
Call the management of your local water treatment plant and ask for a tour.  I’m sure you’ll learn a lot!

Oh – and if you can go out with your friends for lunch afterwards – so much the better.

Field Work Friday – The Circus

I’ve been wanting to take our animal-loving kids to the circus for years, so when our local home school group decided to go there for a field trip, there was no way we would miss it.
During the week leading up to our trip, we studied everything about the circus.  The Ringing Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus website is amazing, and since that’s where we were headed, it was the perfect launchpad for our exploration.
We began by reading about the performers in the circus.  Our kids didn’t really understand what a circus is, so they had lots of questions.  As we read their bios and talked about their native country and how long they had been performing, we used circus vocabulary words like ‘ringmaster,’ ‘three ring circus,’ and ‘trapeze.’  They began to understand, finally asking if it was going to be like one of the shows that we saw last year at Disney.  🙂  To help them understand further, we visited YouTube and found short clips of some performers so that they could visualize what each could do.
As the week progressed, we studied the animals in the circus.  We read books about each one, drawing pictures, writing summaries of what we learned, and watching documentaries of some through the Smithsonian Channel app on the Nook.  My Little Man particularly loved this!  Ringling Bros. also has an Elephant Conservation Center in Florida, and we read about that before watching a short documentary, also on their website.  That fascinated my Big Helper.
Soon the big day had arrived!  We headed out bright and early, determined to beat the crowds – and we did!  We were even more excited to learn that our seats were IN THE SECOND ROW!  The motorcycle highwire guy was almost directly over our heads!  What a view!
None of us could wait for the show to start.


Personally, this was one of my favorite acts.  An old-fashioned stunt show, these men and women could do amazing acrobatics on galloping horses.  Their strength, balance, and trust in each other and in their mounts was inspiring to see.  


This troupe of jumping acrobats was pretty neat, too.  How they could use a springboard to jump four people high and land on someone else’s shoulders is beyond me – but they did this and more.


The group of martial arts masters from the Far East fascinated my Little Man, and with good reason.  They were able to bend steel with their chests, snap hard boards swung at their heads, and balance on the tip of a spear – on their chests.  Here, this man jumped through a blazing hoop of knives – with a black hood over his head.  

(Photo courtesy of the amazing Susan B.)

Princess, the tiger on the left, was having a rather grumpy day, making this show quite tense.  I’m glad I wasn’t the one in the ring with her! – but it did make for an exciting show.  I’m not so sure that My Little Man is ready to take up lion taming, however …

(As I’m sure you can tell, this photo was also taken by the amazing Susan B.)

nothing prepared me to my Big Helper’s new fascination with elephants.  She has added working at the Ringling Bros.’ Elephant Conservation Center in Florida as a new career possibility for her future.  I wonder where I can find an elephant for her to ride?

All in all, we loved our trip to the circus and were nowhere ready for the show to end.  The kids are already talking about Ringling Bros.‘ trip to the Triangle next year.  Maybe we’ll be able to go again!

Have you ever taken your kids to the circus?  What did they think?  Do you know where to ride an elephant?

Field Work Friday – A Veterinary House Call

This week we had the opportunity to watch a veterinary house call.  My in-laws are stabling a horse for their grandchildren, and since this arrangement began only recently, they wanted to be sure that Belle is in good health.
I’m not sure that Belle appreciated their concern, however.  I think she was trying to hide.
First, the vet and her assistant established a medical record for Belle and took some information to establish a baseline.  This included taking her picture from several different angles and checking her heart rate.

Next, they checked her feet.  Belle has serious issues with having her back legs touched, so this wasn’t easy. The vet did manage to check one foot …

before Belle kicked and had to be moved against the fence to complete this portion of the check-up.
The peanut gallery was in awe of this entire procedure.  We must’ve looked like such bumpkins, parked in our lawn chairs, watching the vet do her thing.   (Good thing I didn’t make popcorn.)
She is beautiful, isn’t she?  
They slipped her a sedative so that they could begin the dental portion of the visit.  
Next they rinsed her mouth with an iodine solution.  This was to remove any leftover grass in her teeth and clean the area well before working with her teeth.
Check out that headgear!  They stabilized Belle’s head …
and then they inspected her teeth visually.  (I think the boys wanted one of those fancy lights.)
The vet was so nice to stop and explain everything to us periodically.
Belle’s teeth are wearing unevenly as most horses’ teeth do.  Because the upper and lower jaws are not the same width (and because horses’ teeth never stop growing), the edges get sharp and then the horse can’t chew food properly.  Because this was happening, Belle’s teeth needed to be filed.
I’ve never had a cavity.  After watching this massive tool at work, I’m pretty sure I don’t want one.  Floss, please!
Woozy and a bit bow-legged, Belle walked docilely back to the pasture.  Done for now – with a clean bill of health.
I’m glad that Belle doesn’t have to do that every day, but I’m very happy that she’s healthy.  
If you’ve never watched a vet do a check-up on a large animal, it’s very interesting.  Call up a vet and check it out!

Field Work Friday – Touring the Videri Chocolate Factory

 We recently had the opportunity to tour Videri Chocolate Factory in Raleigh, North Carolina.

We started out in the coffee shop area of the store.  Our tour guide explained about the meaning of the name Videri, ‘to see’ in Latin, which explains the open layout of the factory.  We also learned that Videri’s cacao beans come from four countries and are blended to create their own unique flavor.
Among her other responsibilities, our tour guide also sorts the beans by hand to remove any debris or bad beans that may have gotten mixed in the bag.  This serves not only to protect the machines but also to improve the flavor of the finished product.
Sam, founder and developer of the Videri recipe, was roasting the beans as we walked past.  This machine can roast several pounds at a time, which takes several hours.  Fortunately for us, this batch was ready while we watched, and so we saw the beans empty from the drum.  The kids were fascinated with this!
These are the only ingredients in Videri chocolate!
This is the winnowing machine.  It separates the nibs from the shells by vacuum.  The winnowing machine typically runs on Fridays.
The tempering machine helps the chocolate achieve the perfect texture and shine.  This gives Videri’s chocolate a great snap! when you break each bar.
These handy dishes inside the winnowing room let the tourists see what the beans look like during each piece of the chocolate process.


Videri also wraps the finished product by hand.

The sea salt is my favorite!  Pink peppercorn was very unique.  I’ve never tasted anything like it before!


 Didn’t they make our samples pretty?

I think this was our favorite part of the tour.

Videri Chocolate is open five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday.  The factory is open for tourists to wander through for self-guided tours, enjoy coffee in the new coffee shop, or spend some time on their patio outside.  If you’re in the Raleigh area, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Have you ever seen chocolate being made?

Field Work Friday – Valentine’s Day

This week we kicked back for a Valentine’s party.  One of the other moms, a SAHM homeschooling mom who used to teach kindergarten, planned the party a did a fantastic job.

She decorated with balloons and crepe paper, and the kids LOVED it!  


My Little Man had fun running with ‘the big boys,’ and this little one, too.


Writing is not exactly his favorite activity yet, but he enjoyed making valentine mail boxes out of paper plates when he could hang out with the other boys while doing so.


Stair steps!


When the balloon chasing got too noisy while some finished their mailboxes, everyone grabbed a book from a stack and read Valentine’s stories.


Then we moved back to the table for some learning fun.  First they tried to see how many candy hearts they could build into a tower in only 30 seconds, which is actually quite difficult!


Then they made patterns with their hearts before devouring them and delivering their valentines.
Each family brought a treat to share, and My Little Man was happy to sample everyone’s sweets.  He happily told his big sister that he had “goodies” at his party!
(We took these cake balls to share.  Definitely an experience to make, and one that My Big Helper is already looking forward to making with me.)
In the midst of the balloon happiness and sugar rushes, our party planner also read 1 Corinthians to the kids and talked about graphing the things that love is and what it isn’t.  Then she read Froggy’s First Kiss and the kids played “Pin the Lips on Froggy.”  Too cute!
We had a blast at our Valentine’s celebration, and My Little Man keeps looking over and over his first ever valentine cards.
How did you celebrate Valentine’s?

Field Work Friday – Tai Kwon Do

This week we were visited by Mr. Earl Fuller, of Earl Fuller’s Tai Kwon Do Center.  He taught the kids the basic principles of the martial arts.

Since the term ‘martial arts’ means ‘the art of war,’ I was a bit worried about this one.  I know very little about the martial arts except that they require extreme discipline and strength, and while I believe those are both great things to possess, I was a bit worried about introducing my very impressionable son to them.

Once again, I worried needlessly.

Mr. Fuller started out by explaining that the basic tenets of the martial arts are the same as those that govern all of life.  He talked about the importance of goal setting and then moved on to stranger danger.  He emphasized that the only time someone should use their martial arts skills are in times if immediate, physical danger – and when running away has not worked.

Mr. Fuller showed the kids six blocking techniques that they could use to stop people from touching or harming them in various ways.

The first, putting your hands up and facing out, means “Stop!”

Another, if someone is swinging at your head, involves ducking and turning from the waist.

Mr. Fuller showed that you should never try to stop someone reaching for your leg or foot with your hands, as this leaves your head exposed.

Instead, he recommended bringing up your knee to stop them.

Lastly, if someone is kicking down low at your feet or legs, simply jump up and over the attack.

Finally, Mr. Fuller spoke about the importance of exercise and proper nutrition.

I was very impressed with Mr. Fuller’s presentation.  He gave the children information about martial arts techniques, but also gave them practical information that they can use every day.  He was careful to emphasize the proper purpose of the martial arts and how they incorporate into everyday life.

If we ever decide that our children should have martial arts lessons, we will definitely go to Mr. Fuller.  And if you’ve never considered it, check it out.  Mr. Fuller even gives three free classes to people who want to try it!

Field Work Friday – Staunton River State Park

Last week was gorgeous and we spent much of it outside.  This week we’re suffering from extreme high heat and humidity here in the Carolinas – but Monday was an in-between kind of day.  We knew the heat was coming, but the humidity hadn’t caught up yet.  Enter:  water fun.

We traveled to Staunton River State Park, which is about an hour north of us, and spent the day in their beautiful pools.  With an Olympic-sized big pool, several water slides, and the largest kiddie pool I’ve ever seen, this is a GREAT place for families to come.  It’s also the cleanest public pool I’ve ever visited.  I like that a lot.

The pools have a few awesome features – like this foam froggy waterslide in the kiddie pool.

There’s also this tree-shaped “shower.”

The pool sports lots of these foam animals, that float and work for riding – if you’ve got good balance.  Mine like to wrangle them like cowboys!

With a full day in the water, My Little Man and my Big Helper made big improvements in their water skills.  Both got comfortable with going underwater, and both enjoyed the medium-sized water slide in the big pool (which I couldn’t take pictures of because I was too busy watching them).  They were creative and brave and shared their toys and played with old friends and made new ones.  Summer just has to include a few carefree water days like this one!

After a day of fun in the sun, we were all tired and hungry.  We picnicked at tables beside the pool, but we stopped for a picnic-type simple supper on our way home – at Sheetz!  This is the closest one to us, so our stop there was a treat.

We had a wonderful day in the water with our friends, relaxing and hanging out together.  It was great to spend one last day outside before the humidity settled in, making being outside just plain yucky (at least to this Pennsylvania girl).

How are you beating the heat??

Field Work Friday – Stained Glass Windows

We recently had the opportunity to learn about stained glass from a local artist.  Always interested in the creation of this art, Dr. Saunders had taken a class years ago and made a workshop for himself.  In the years since, he created stained glass windows for a local church and gifts for many.  Our children – and their moms! – were excited to learn about this process.
Dr. Saunders showed us how he begins his work with a pattern.  After planning the design, he must purchase  the materials.  At $12 per square foot, that’s not a light task.  One must also take into consideration any accidents that may happen as each piece of glass could be a tinted a bit differently and therefore not match, making it important to have enough from the same batch for your current project before beginning.
After drawing a curvy line on a small piece of glass, Dr. Saunders showed us how to use a glass cutter to cut the piece.  After tracing it with this tool, he used another tool which carefully separated the two pieces.
The children were curious about how the piece comes together.  After explaining the soldering process, Dr. Saunders explained that the stained glass is like us – it isn’t beautiful until God’s light shines through it.  To illustrate that idea and to allow them to see how the light affects each color, the group went to the window to check out the light streaming through this lighthouse window.
Afterwards Dr. Saunders let all of us look at some of his tools, and he answered many questions about the creation of stained glass. 
My Big Helper was fascinated to learn that a perfect window is never set inside a church, as the only perfect thing there is God.  Others were interested in seeing how the shapes could be put together to create pictures.  My Little Man liked hearing about how the glass is colored from the addition of chemicals to the molten glass before cooling.
If you ever have the chance to explore this art further, check it out!  Stained glass is beautiful. 🙂