Field Work Friday – How Old Is That Tree?

We’re a part of a botany co-op this year, and we’ve begun to study trees – their parts, what they do, and their part in our natural world.
We decided that this would be the perfect time to take a field trip back to see Park Ranger Mike DiFabio at Little River Regional Park.  He’s wonderful with our kids and always fascinates them with great information and field-specific tools, and he was certainly on the ball this time.
Photo by Susan B.
He began by reviewing the parts of a tree with them – the crown, trunk, and roots, as well as the xylum, phloem, cambium, etc. – and what each part does.  Mike got the kids talking about photosynthesis and the giving off of oxygen, and they were excited to share what they knew.  Then they moved on to aging trees.  The kids were excited to share that they knew about tree rings, and they were even happier when Mike showed them this tree ‘cookie.’
They weren’t sure how to find out the age of a tree without hurting the tree, however, until Mike showed them this special bore – and immediately found a tree to try it out.


Mike had the kids line up and let each one take a turn extracting a sample from the center of the tree out.  


He showed them how to count the rings to determine the age of the tree, and also what the varying distances between the rings might mean.


After that the group returned to the pavilion, where Mike gave the children their own tree “cooky” so they could count the rings themselves.  It’s definitely harder to do as the wood ages!

Mike outdid himself, as usual.  His lesson meshed perfectly with our studies and provided hands-on experience that we couldn’t give our children.  They were fascinated with the tools of his trade and excited to share about the new things that they’ve learned.  Thanks, Mike!

Field Work Friday – How to Write a Story

This week we met at our local library to learn about story writing.  Children’s Librarian Amanda Weaver started out by reading a Toot and Puddle book, and then she shared a story that she had written as a child.


Next she talked with the children about the important parts of a story: the characters, the conflict, and the resolution.  They also discussed the parts of a printed book, such as the cover, the spine, the words, and the illustrations.
Amanda had prepared simple story pages for each child, and after distributing the pages and crayons, the kids set out to write their own story.  They had some really creative ideas and were eager to share their work, so they decided to read them to each other.
Even the very youngest of children had something to say, and with a little help, they got their words on paper and shared them with our group.
It’s never to early to begin writing!

Field Work Friday – Golfin’ Buddies

This week, our activity was a bit different from the usual … my men went off on a golf date.
I realize that might not sound very educational, but I beg to differ.  Not because golfing is chock full of physics – though it is – or because the best players are very strong and fit – because they should be – but because it provides an awesome opportunity for my guys to bond.
They need that.
My husband is a decent golfer, and he wants our children to learn the sport.  Both of them love it, and our Little Man received a set of real golf clubs from his grandparents this past Christmas.  Between the extreme cold and then the crazy mud, they have had few opportunities really to play – until today.
Daddy slathered on the sunscreen, and we packed water bottles and snacks for the outing.  
Isn’t he handsome?  So ready for his big day!
I have no other pictures of the outing itself.  I couldn’t bring myself to send along a camera when my men would be so busy with their clubs.  
They came home with wonderful stories, though.  The men who followed mine play every day, and they were quite impressed with how well our Little Man hit the ball.  He was able to recognize that he acted shyly towards them, so we got in a lesson on stranger danger afterwards.  My Little Man gleefully told about the time that he hit the ball down a hill, across a bridge, and up the other side – and Daddy’s went into the creek.  He loved that one!
After returning home, our Little Man had to show me how he hit the ball.  He practiced with a ping pong ball in the front yard.  I have a feeling that will be happening much more often.
Putting his club back in the bag.  He was sad to stop so soon – but tired enough for a three-hour nap!
Daddy dates are very important.  It gives fathers and children a chance to bond, to learn each other’s personalities, to establish a trust that can continue to be built upon throughout life – and that will be there when the tough times come, as they always do.  Daddy was very impressed with Luke’s behavior on this, their first golfing outing.  Our Little Man was proud and excited to be his daddy’s golfing buddy.  He’s already asking when they can go again.
I foresee many more golf outings in the future!
How do you date your children?

Field Work Friday – Playing the Guitar

Musical instruments are exciting.  Hard to play, perhaps not exciting to practice, but always exciting to be able to hang out, make music, and bring people together.

Pastor Jason, a Duke seminary student interning at Warren’s Grove UMC  this summer, is a great guitarist.  He’s also wonderful with children, and so he agreed to give us a group guitar lesson.

He began by teaching us about different types of guitars – classical, electric, and acoustic.
Then he taught us about the parts of the guitar, how to place our fingers to make chords, and then he gave each child a chance to strum his guitar.


Pastor Jason also knows how to play the drums, and he brought along an African drum.  He taught the kids how to make different sounds with it by tapping it with different parts of their hands.


Each kid got a chance to try that out, too ….


and they really liked it!


Then Pastor Jason taught us how to make patterns and rhythms by tapping on our legs and imitating his drums.


He closed by playing Down in My Heart and letting us all sing along.  The kids loved it, and it was a great way to hear how the guitar could pull our voices and chords together.
Thanks, Pastor Jason, for sharing your time and talents with us!
Do you play an instrument?  How did you learn?

Field Work Friday – The Fire Station

The fire station has been, in my opinion, one of our most informative visits so far. Maybe that’s because one of their main goals is to educate so that they aren’t needed – but at any rate, the firefighters who visited with us were wonderful.

The fire fighters took us back to their training room first and we watched a short cartoon about how quickly a fire can engulf a house and how make an emergency plan – planning an escape route, meeting place, and knowing the exits from each room of the house.
Then they modeled their gear and let us hear how the air tanks sound. They gave each child a backpack full of coloring books, stickers, informational pamphlets, keychains, cups, etc. My little firefighter wears his backpack – ahem, his air tank – around the house now when he’s fighting a fire!
After that we went out to the bay and got to climb on some trucks. The firefighters answered questions about various parts and purposes and let the kids really check it all out.
Some even posed for pictures.
We decided that the giant bumpers made great places to pose for pictures. What cute firefighters!
This small vehicle is ridden by the fire chief in parades. This was by far the kids’ favorite – it was more their size!
My little firefighter became so into fire safety during our study of it this week that we ended up having a whole family discussion about it after visiting the fire station. We designated a neighbor’s porch as our emergency meeting place and even practiced climbing out of a window (to alleviate our daughter’s fears of how it would work). Our smoke detectors have new batteries and we still pray that God will guard us from a fire, but should it happen, my short fire crew of fire fighters knows what to do.
If you’ve never visited your local fire station, give them a call. Who knows – you might learn something, too!

Field Work Friday – Ethiopia

This week we had a very special guest – a local man who has made several mission trips to Ethiopia – and is planning his next one.
Jason began by telling us a bit about himself and how God has led him to Ethiopia.  From there we learned about its location and climate.
Ethiopia is a land-locked country west of the Horn of Africa.  It’s dry most of the year but does have a rainy season, and while many people think of animals when they think of this country, there are far more animals in Kenya to the south.  Despite this, snakes and hyenas do populate the country.  Hyenas are dangerous to people and in some places towns consist of ‘compounds’ with guarded gates at night where hyenas roam the streets, searching for food.

It takes 16 hours to fly from North Carolina to Ethiopia’s capital city and then another 16 hours to travel by Land Rover to the southern villages where Jason works.  Outside of the city the roads are rough dirt and full of potholes, people, and animals.  He said that honking is an acceptable means of asking people to watch out!

Ethiopia is the only African county that was never colonized.  Because of that, and because an Ethiopian man visited with Paul in the Bible and there were early Christian settlements there, Ethiopia is quite friendly to foreign missionaries.  It is not the only faith there, however; another popular one being Islam.


Jason brought along a laptop and showed us pictures and videos of his travels.  Despite the extreme dryness, the landscape was very green and beautiful.

These mission trips each serve a specific purpose and help established Christian groups in Ethiopia.  The extreme poverty of the rural areas makes communication and shopping difficult, and so Bibles are in short supply.  Armed with an arsenal of Bibles, Jason’s group gets to distribute them – but the demand is great for Bibles in their own language.  While they pass them out for free, they need a way to decide who gets each limited quantity, so the requirement is the recitation of a scripture passage.  People wanting to get a Bible borrow one from a friend, learn the required passage, and then come to the distribution point and recite it.  In this picture, you can see the elders standing around a man reciting his passage and going up to receive his Bible.
What was especially humbling about watching this video was seeing the man dancing in his excitement, reciting his passage, and knowing that he would walk hours home carrying it – after walking hours to get there.  Bibles are so rare and precious that the people are willing to put that much effort into acquiring one – and there were crowds of people waiting for this chance.  How often do I claim I’m too tired – it’s too hard to understand – I don’t like this translation – and not even pick it up?  To me, this was convicting.
Because people are poor and many live far away from commercial businesses, they are skilled at making things for themselves.  (There is a market day in each town to buy, sell, or trade for the goods they need.)  This hat was an example of something that they made to fill a need – and the craftsmanship was beautiful!
This shirt was another.  It was subtly colorful and had embroidery on the collar and cuffs.
Jason purchased this ball on one of his trips for his son.  The embroidery on each circle features letters of their alphabet.
This is an Ethiopian coin.
Jason went waayyyy above and beyond the call of duty.  Not only did he make time in his busy schedule to speak to us, but he also brought an Ethiopian dollar for each of the children.

He brought a favorite Ethiopian snack, too:  /fond-i-shaa./  (No idea how to spell that – but that’s my phonetic version.)  Popcorn!

My Little Man is excited about his popcorn.  He’s also been telling everyone about the bumpy roads and grassy houses of “Indotheopia.”  I’m sure he’ll figure out the name soon.

I hear that there’s an Ethiopian restaurant in Raleigh. Maybe one of these days we’ll venture down and try something new!

I didn’t realize I had so many preconceived notions about Ethiopia until I heard Jason speak.  It sounds like a beautiful, friendly, wild, hardworking nation.  

What nation would you like to learn more about??

Field Work Friday – Eating Egyptian

Whenever we study a specific culture or country, I try to find a place where we can eat something with the particular spices or preparations from that place.
Finding Egyptian food wasn’t exactly easy, but we found a Mediterranean restaurant in downtown Raleigh called Shish Kabob.  Since Egypt is bordered on the north by the Mediterranean Sea, we thought they might have something Egyptian-like to offer – and at the very least, it would be a new food experience for us.
We weren’t mistaken.
We chose to order two different dishes and share them among us.  (I didn’t think to take pictures until after I had divided the dishes.  The original portions were much larger.)
Our marinated and flame-grilled beef kabobs came served with spiced rice, a sauce, and warm pita.


A falafel was a very new dish to me.  It was served in a long hoagie-style roll with lettuce, tomato, and tzatziki  sauce.
While the basic ingredients weren’t too foreign to us, we weren’t sure exactly what spices were in things or what the sauces might be like, and so we had lots of questions.  The man at the counter was very patient with us and answered all of our questions.  He even gave us a stuffed grape leaf for free so that we could try it!  We appreciated his kindness – and the opportunity to try something we might not have otherwise.



Shish Kabob is a carry-out restaurant at the downtown Raleigh location, but the weather was beautiful and there are lots of tables just outside, so we enjoyed a picnic dinner with friends.   I divided our food among us and we dug in.
The kids loved the kebobs.  It was straight-up delicious meat, tender and flavorful.  They loved it.
They thought the rice was okay.  I thought it was rather exotic.  We were all curious to know what spices it contained, as it had a very unique flavor, but when we asked, we were told “seven.”  I guess it’s their secret blend!
I particularly enjoyed the falafel.  Rather like a vegetarian meatball, it was crunchy on the outside but warm and soft on the inside.  It had a surprising kick of spice to it, which I liked a lot – but the kids didn’t.  It was too much for them.  
Their favorite item was the pita.  It was soft and warm, and both kids wanted extra.  It was definitely an exciting find.
We don’t have a Shish Kabob location near us, so it isn’t a place we’ll be able to visit too often.  Our dinner was so yummy, though, that we’ll definitely be back.
Have you ever eaten Egyptian food?

Field Work Friday – Scavenger Hunts at Duke Gardens

This week we ventured to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, part of Duke University.  I planned several scavenger hunt sheets so that our children, who usually range in age from 1 to 8, could all participate in some way.

Because the temperature was supposed to get into the mid-90s, we met at 9 AM.  After arranging our meeting places and picking up maps, we headed out into the 50+ acre garden.

While I was excited about searching out different items with My Little Man and then discussing them with the group as a whole over a picnic lunch, I was very excited to introduce my friend Noelle to our group.

Noelle has been honing her photography skills for years and agreed to take pictures of our children while we hunted throughout the garden.  Because this particular garden is so diverse and has so many fountains and special features, it makes the perfect place for special pictures.

(If you would live in our neck of the woods and would like fabulous pictures of  your children or next event, you can check out Noelle’s blog.  Contact her for more information!)

We’ll have Noelle’s pictures back soon, but you can see some of the topics for the various scavenger hunts.  We didn’t do all of these, but we found pieces of them all ….

For those of us doing the number hunt, we found a plant with ONE main base.

For those people doing the color search, we found an animal with RED wings.

We found a rock that could be used like a chair, just as Jessie did in The Boxcar Children, for those people doing the literature hunt.

We found SPHERICAL flowers, a shape needed on the shape hunt.

Of course, all that hunting made us very hot and thirsty ..

It was tempting to just step right off those stones …

but we stuck to our water bottles, instead.

If you would like to take these scavenger hunts outside yourself, you can find copies of them here.

Have you done an old-fashioned scavenger hunt lately?  What interesting things can you find in your backyard or local park?

Field Work Friday – Duke Chapel

This week we ventured somewhere a bit different: Duke Chapel on the Duke University Campus in Durham, North Carolina. 

Knowing only that it’s a beautiful church, we were anxious to see what it looks like – and we weren’t disappointed!

We parked in a nearby parking garage and walked up to the Chapel from the side.


Doesn’t it look old and Gothic?

We learned from our fabulous tour guide Betty that it’s neither.  In true Gothic architecture, the tower is over the altar or on either side of it, but the people who commissioned this building wanted it to stand out – so they had a large tower built over the Narthex.

The stone for this enormous building came from nearby Hillsborough.


The detail work in this building is amazing.  Everything is hand-carved from wood or stone.  As you walk through the large oak doors into the Narthex, six statues stand on either side.  I must confess that I can’t remember who all of these men were, but Martin Luther stands on the left of the doorway and in the above picture, Robert E. Lee is in the middle.

The ceiling of the Narthex is a very long ways up – and even that is incredibly detailed.

Much of the detail work in the Chapel centers around the number three, symbolizing the Trinity.  You can see it in this front-door window …

and carved into the archway above every door.

After entering the Navis, or Nave, the main part of the sanctuary, one must trek 291 feet to the altar.  Must be awful for nervous brides!

There are 77 windows in the Nave consisting of over 1 million pieces of stained glass in two tiers.  The upper windows feature scenes from the Old Testament, while the lower windows feature New Testament stories.

The Chapel has two organs – one in front and one in back.  The one in the back is the bigger of the two and is played for an hour each day.  It is absolutely enormous – and it creates very beautiful music.

Over 1500 people can attend services at this church at one time.  The choir seats 150, and this area also features lots of amazing carvings.

A small chapel off to the left of the altar has a much homier feel, still with extravagantly beautiful windows …

and three sarcophagi carved from Italian marble.

Downstairs the windows are simpler …

and there’s a children’s play area, though I don’t know if I could get used to having my children attend Sunday School in a crypt.    Not sure about that.

Heading back upstairs …

we looked for some of the funny quirks that the carvers created as they worked.  Can you find the mouse they carved into this column?

Duke Chapel is an amazing building full of history and beauty.  It’s open every weekday and for services on Sunday, so if you’re ever in the area, stop in and check it out!  You won’t be sorry.

Our everyday surroundings quickly become routine and we miss the special beauty all around us.  What fun attractions and architecture might be fun to explore with your child?

Field Work Friday – Visiting DOT Headquarters

Visiting a construction site was high on my list of things-to-do, but how could our little ones get up-close-and-personal to a working dump truck? I was stumped for a bit, and finally called the local government office in charge of road repairs. I was referred several times, but finally sent to our local DOT headquarters (I didn’t even know we had one!) where the man in charge generously agreed to all an unknown number of preschoolers visit.

When I arrived at headquarters on DOT day, I was amazed to find 12 little ones. How wonderful! Two great tour guides greeted us and escorted us out to the yard, where they had lined up about five trucks of different types. They began to tell us about each one and then, to my surprise, they helped each eager child to climb on. Imagine our surprise when they actually started up each truck and allowed the children to raise and lower booms, honk horns, and push all sorts of buttons! Several of the little ones were afraid of the noise (who knew a dump truck had such a LOUD horn??) but most were fascinated.
My son – so shy! – loves wheels. We had to take a picture of him with one. Look at how large they are!
These boys were just fascinated with the asphalt lying near one of the vehicles. They had never seen it in loose form before – and because the day was so hot, it was even a bit sticky!
As we prepared to leave, our wonderful tour guides handed each child a real construction vest. Have you ever seen such a great-looking group of construction workers??
All in all, we had a FANTASTIC visit to the DOT headquarters. I definitely recommend this as a place to check out!