Life as a Pilgrim: Fun & Games

This month our Book Club girls read Ron Roy’s The Mayflower Treasure Hunt.  I was pleasantly surprised by this book – the descriptions of the Mayflower are historically accurate, the initial movement of the Pilgrims are tracked throughout the Cape Cod area, and the modern Plymouth is well depicted.  I love the way that Roy added a believable mystery into the Pilgrim story, making it easy to tell which parts are fiction and which are true while still maintaining a fun and exciting story.
I had lots of events planned for this club meeting and was very excited – and then it became possible for us to travel to a local park for a “Pilgrims at Play” program, where they promised to teach about the fun side of Pilgrim life.  This seemed like the perfect place to meet about this book!
Several of the girls traveled with my family, and they talked a bit about the book on our way to and from the park. They also learned quite a bit more about Pilgrim life while there.
The program began as Hilary, the presenter, talked about basic Pilgrim facts.  As she prepared them to use books to study Pilgrim life, she taught the kids a few phrases in Wampanoag and in Elizabethan English. This was by far my favorite feature of this program. Who would expect to hear Elizabethan English in a small park in North Carolina?
Next, Hilary pulled out tubs of supplies and let the kids play Pilgrim-style.  Mine never moved past the ball-and-cup.  They were each determined to get the hang of it!
After learning about the foods available to the Pilgrims for their first Great Harvest Celebration, the kids made painted fish impressions.  They painted a textured rubber fish and then rubbed it onto plain paper to transfer the colorful image. 

After a picnic lunch on the center’s beautiful stone porch and some playtime in the museum, we headed out.  Even though the rain had stopped, the girls were too happy to pose under this vibrant umbrella.

Next month we’re looking forward to discussing a good Christmas mystery and spreading some Christmas cheer.

What good books have you read lately?

Life as a Pilgrim: Daily Activities

This week we got together with friends once again to live life as a Pilgrim.  We focused on activities of daily life this time, and began our work by learning about the clothing that the children would wear.
After reading Samuel Eaton’s Day and Sarah Morton’s Day, both by Kate Waters, we grabbed three petticoats and an apron.  The girls each put on all of these layers to see what it felt like to wear so much clothing at one time.  They were all quite certain that they’d stick to their jeans!
Next, we moved to the table and began to make poppets out of cardboard and fabric.  Using the pictures in the books as guides, the kids each dressed their poppets in the clothing worn by the pilgrims then.  They cut out clothing from fabric and used yarn as garters to hold up their stockings.  They worked for a very long time on this, determined to get each layer just right.  
Mine were very excited about their finished product.
Don’t they look great?
By this time we were all quite hungry, so we headed for a Pilgrim lunch in the kitchen.  After working together to set the table with plates and spoons, the kids stood by their plates – as children did then – and carefully placed their napkins on their shoulders.  They were less than pleased, however, when I put five kernels of corn on their plates.  After talking about how sick the Pilgrims were that first winter, about how that may have been due to their lack of nutritious food and disease, about how some days this was just all they had, the kids sadly ate their corn.  They were quite upset with me …


so we handed them their journals and let them write.  Each child expressed his/her displeasure well through writing.  My Little Man used exclamation points for the first time, declaring the corn to be “hard.”  Another child stated that if he had been a Pilgrim, he likely would have starved, although he would have eaten the corn since there wasn’t anything else.  
When they finished their writing, they cheered as we brought out their ‘real’ lunches, and headed outside happily for a picnic.
Next we learned about Pilgrim furniture.  After talking about the difference between beds for adults and beds for kids, they stuffed large burlap bags with straw.  Each child took turns laying on it.  They finally decided that this whole process was a lot of fun, but that they preferred their own beds to these scratchier ones.
Our last activity of the day was to dip candles.  While the Pilgrims bought their candles from England for the first few years, being too focused on survival to have time for candle dipping, we thought this would be a good way to see the work that went into having light during this time period.  Besides, someone was dipping candles for the Pilgrims!
The kids really enjoyed this process, although they got most excited about it when their candles began to grow fatter.  This took a long time, and when the kids learned that a typical candle has 200 dips, a few were rather discouraged.  

I took this picture when we were about halfway through the process and at the time, this was the biggest candle.  She was so excited with her finished product that she began a second candle!  All of the kids decided that they wouldn’t want to be dependent upon their own candle-making abilities for light – but that this was a fun process, at least for a few minutes.

Next week we’re taking a field trip to learn about the Pilgrims’ journey on the Mayflower and games that the children might have played.  Come back to join us!

You can read about our Pilgrim cooking adventure here.

How are you preparing for Thanksgiving?

Life as a Pilgrim: Cooking

When I was about nine, my grandmother* took me to Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts.  It was a cool New England day in the summer, a bit misty and damp, and I’ll never forget how shocked I was as I stood inside those tiny houses, amazed at how dark and smoky and damp they were.  I felt sure that the Pilgrims must have been incredibly brave and determined people to purposely live in such difficult conditions.
As a teacher, I feel that we often leave that part out of the Thanksgiving story.  Yes, we talk about a rough winter, about Squanto teaching Pilgrims how to plant corn, and then a miraculous, wonderful harvest and a big party to celebrate; but I want to dig deeper into the story.  How did they really survive that first winter?  Why were the Pilgrims – really called ‘Separatists’ – so very determined to stay in the New World?  How difficult was that first winter really, and what was their trip like on the Mayflower, anyway?  Basically, what did their everyday lives really look like?  What kind of people were they?
As a parent, I want my children to understand about the kind of people who will do anything to obey the calling that God has placed on their hearts – even when it makes no sense to their peers.  So this month, we’re studying the real story of the ‘Pilgrims’ – and we’re doing it in a real way.
We’re reading books, studying photographs of my two journeys to Plimoth Plantation, and watching virtual tours- but we’re also getting together with friends to try our hands at some real Pilgrim activities.  We began yesterday.
After trekking out to the edge of the forest, we talked about how the Pilgrims brought very little with them – and so they had available to them whatever they could find on the beach or in the forest.  With that in mind, the children tackled their first task:  cooking.
We spent most of our day working with food – largely because that was one of the most important tasks for the Pilgrims during their first winter in Plimoth.  Arriving in December didn’t allow them to build or harvest anything leisurely – they had to hurry to settle in.  While they wouldn’t have had an oven to bake bread, they would have needed to find a way to cook, and simple quick breads and fritters were likely.


We gave the kids a batch of homemade play dough and asked them to cook it.  You should have seen their faces!
After working for nearly an hour, conferring, scouring the yard for natural ‘supplies, and talking through their plan, they built this spit-like contraption.  They broke the dough up into smaller pieces, reasoning that it would ‘bake’ faster this way, and they arranged it on boards and on a spit in the sun.  They felt sure that the sun would bake their small pieces of dough.


Next, we handed them a rubber ‘turkey.’  They laughed crazily at this one, but instead of building another spit as I expected, instead they went searching for vines.  They found one near the creek and tied the turkey to a tree.  Again, they expected the sun to cook their bird.
We had to have a long talk about the strength of the sun during a New England winter.
These Southern children were not impressed.  They seemed to prefer a Myrtle beach heat wave to a Massachusetts winter wind.  Oh, well.  Back to the drawing board!


Next we gave them each a walnut that we had harvested and dried from our backyard walnut tree this summer.  Now, this project completely cracked me up.  I’ve never seen kids struggle so much with a nut!  At a loss as to how to crack it without a nutcracker – which my kids have never seen, anyway – they began throwing the nuts at trees.  When that didn’t work – they just lost the nuts that way – they began banging and scraping them against the bark, trying to rub off the shell.


After a seemingly endless amount of time, we asked them to work on another plan, so they found some rocks.  They each put their nut on a rock and began banging on the nut with a stick.  That didn’t work out so well, either. They did throw large rocks at the nuts, and they cracked that way, but since that was rather dangerous – who really goes around throwing boulders at tiny walnuts? – they started again.  They tried everything from jumping on their nuts to making a 3-Pilgrim pile-up on top of a nut, hoping to squish it with their sheer accumulated body weight, but to no avail.  Finally, after a few hints towards other objects and reminders that their Pilgrim tummies weren’t filling up this way, they grabbed hand-size rocks and beat the nuts with it.  
Rock-hammers work for cracking walnuts.  Just so you know.
(It’s a good thing these kids aren’t real Pilgrims, but you gotta hand it to them – they’re seriously determined!)


Next, we moved on to the real cooking.  We gave each kid an ear of dried Indian corn and asked them to remove the kernels.  That proved to be harder than they expected.
Then, using borrowed mortars and pestles of different materials and sizes, they tried grinding the corn.


Eventually we used a very simple recipe to mix up our own cornbread.  My husband had a fire going in the yard, and so we cooked our cornbread outside in a pan over coals.  It was difficult to get the temperature right, the smoke burned my eyes as I tried to flip each one, and the kids danced impatiently around the fire as they waited hungrily to eat.  Oh, the life of a Pilgrim!
Finally the cornbread – and the simple pumpkin fritters that we’d made and also cooked over the fire – were ready.  They kids all liked the cornbread and asked for more.  The fritters were a bit less popular.  They all decided that cooking like a Pilgrim was hard work.


Back outside, the kids decided to check on their ‘bread’ dough.  They decided that it was getting crusty and that perhaps this sun thing was working.  We decided that next time we should use real dough instead of play dough that dried out so easily.  😉


Finally, each child settled in with a journal to record his/her thoughts about Pilgrim life and food.  Each child decided that being a Pilgrim was quite difficult – and one was quite certain that he didn’t want to give up his McDonalds’ drive-through or KFC.  They each seemed to feel that our lives today are much simpler – at least where basic survival is concerned – than that of the Pilgrims.  My Big Helper had so much to say that she began another book – complete, as my Little Man exclaimed, with “a Table of Continents.”

In the end, no matter how successful they might be at Pilgrim cooking, they met our goals.  They tried hard.  They were creative.  They thought outside the box, just as the real Pilgrims had to do.  They realized that the Pilgrims worked really hard and made do with what they had.  They also learned that they have lots to be thankful for.

Mission accomplished.

Shared at I Can Teach My Child.

Come back next week to see our next installment in our ‘Life as a Pilgrim’ series!

*Nana, thanks for taking me to Plimoth all those years ago.  It made a huge impression on me – and, by extension, is making one on my kids, as well.  🙂  I appreciate all the work you put into our summer excursions!

“Lamb of God” Cupcakes

I recently saw a picture in passing of fluffy cupcakes decorated as lambs for Easter, and since My Little Man loves to bake, I knew this project would be right up his alley.  I don’t remember where we saw the picture, so we decided to make up our own ‘recipe.’

These cupcakes are not exactly a low-sugar treat, but they’re definitely fun to make – and to share.  We took them to our weekly playgroup meeting and shared with our friends, and then shared more with several neighbors.  Spread out like that, it makes a much more reasonable treat – and it’s a great way to spread the Good News, too.

During our school time, we read about how Jesus is the Lamb of the World, taken from John 1:29.  We talked about how that means that Jesus paid for all of our sins when He died on the cross, just like the Israelites used lambs to pay for their sins before this.  For his daily writing practice, My Little Man wrote, “Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away our sins.”

To create your own flock of Godly lambs, simply:

  1. We started with our basic Goofy Cake recipe and baked them as cupcakes (20 minutes at 350 for regular sized ones.)  Note:  Most of our recipes work well with white-wheat flour and are already fairly low in sugar, but this recipe is not conducive to these changes.  It works best with white flour, though it isn’t bad with white wheat, and the full amount of white sugar.  This recipe makes about 24 regular sized cupcakes.
  2. When cool, ice each cupcake with a thin layer of Mom’s White Icing (See recipe below.)  
  3. Stick a large marshmallow near one edge to be the head.  Ours were turned every which way, and we thought as a whole it made the ‘flock’ look pretty interesting.
  4. Cover the rest of the top with mini-marshmallows.  
  5. Near the edge opposite the head, place a black jellybean between marshmallows as a tail.
  6. Create a face.  Slicing another black jellybean in half gave the sheep an interesting bug-eyed look, but for most we opted for simple gray dots made out of icing.  We piped pink crescents for smiles, and voila! you’ve got a herd of Godly lambs.
To make Mom’s White Icing, mix the following until well blended:
  • 2/3 c. shortening
  • 3 c. 10X sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • dash of salt
  • 5 T. milk

Making Job-Inspired Snow Art

I love the end of the book of Job.  I realize that might sound a bit strange, but I love the way that Job, Elihu, and God talk about just how amazing God really is.  

One of those sections talks about how He controls the weather.  It says in Job 37:6-7 that “He directs the snow to fall on the earth and tells the rain to pour down.   Then everyone stops working so they can watch his power.” 

I happened to see a random Pin about how some noodles look like snowflakes, and this project was born.  Our church’s elementary-aged youth group made these one night, and we all had fun.  Some kids painted snowmen, others painted buildings or trees or entire scenes, but My Big Helper decided to go for symmetry. 

Here’s what you need:
– snowflake-shaped pasta
– white paint, two parts
– rubbing alcohol
– blue paper
– paint brushes
– a printable of the verses above (optional)

1.  Mix your pasta, a few tablespoons of white paint, and 2 T. of rubbing alcohol in a zip-top bag.  Shake and squish carefully until the pasta is covered.
2.  Spread out the pasta on old newspapers until dry.
3.  When you’re ready to be creative, pass out the painted pasta, paper, brushes, and glue.  Paint a snowy scene on blue paper.  
4.  Embellish with painted pasta. 
5.  Add scripture verses or write on by hand.

How do you connect scripture and art?

DIY Puffy Paint

My kids love to paint with puffy paint.  It adds dimension to their work and makes painting even more fun.  The best part: you can make it easily with ingredients you already have home!

To make your own puffy paint, simply mix one part of paint to one part of shaving cream.  Stir together gently and then brush onto paper.  If you spread the paint out super thin, the paint will flatten close to the paper; if, however, you brush the paint on thickly and allow it lie in small mounds on the paper, it will dry exactly as you paint it, texture and all.

Allow the paint to dry and display as usual.

What will you paint with your puffy paint?

DIY Egyptian Cookie Map

Whenever we kick off a new unit of a place, we start out by watching a few YouTube travel videos and studying maps.  The kids love maps.  They love trying to determine what the weather might be based on the location’s proximity to the equator, what sort of animals might live there, and even to speculate about what daily life might be like.
We began to study Egypt about two weeks ago, and we decided to kick our map study up a notch:  Instead of reading other people’s maps, we made our own out of cookie bars.
This might sound complicated, and it did take longer than I expected, but the kids loved it.
The kids began by mixing up a double batch of our favorite cookie bar batter.  The kids are good bakers and were able to do this entirely on their own.  (This also required my Big Helper to practice adding mixed numbers as I didn’t double the recipe for her.)
Then they each retrieved the paper maps we’ve looked at and studied the basic shape of the country.  I gave each kid a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and half of the batter.  They used a spatula to spread the batter out into the general shape of Egypt.  My Little Man wanted to create the topography of Egypt with hills and valleys but then sadly decided that the desert was probably pretty flat.  My Big Helper actually used her spatula to carve the Nile River and its delta with tributaries into her batter.
After baking, we mixed up a batch of simple cookie glaze.  We colored some blue, some green, and left the rest white.  The kids used our cookie paintbrushes to paint the Nile blue and the fertile land near it green.  Then they crushed graham crackers and sprinkled them over the white icing to represent the desert sand.
Next they moved on to labeling.   They made small flags out of toothpicks and scrapbook paper to represent major cities and monuments.  The kids shared a small package of M&Ms to designate these places on their cookie and then stuck a flag in next to each one.  My Big Helper color-coded her candies to signify the capital city, monuments, and other places of interest, and then made a map key so share that information.
Their personalities shine through on each one.  My Little Man wanted to have lots of glaze on his map and as much of the color orange as possible.
My Big Helper wanted everything to be neat and orderly and as close to a printed map as possible.  She was exact and precise as she worked and really enjoyed making her Egypt, as she calls it.  She’s already planning how to make the map for the next country we study!
Now, after supper each night, the kids eagerly ask for “a piece of their Egypt.”  Who knew that Egypt was such a yummy country?  

What’s your favorite way to kick off a new study?

Chinese New Year Party with Winter Promise

I received a free copy of Winter Promise’s Children Around the World curriculum in exchange for a series of posts about how we are using it.  This is one such post.  For my complete review and disclosure policy, click on the ‘Full Disclosure’ tab above.
 We recently spent several weeks studying China for our homeschool Geography Fair (more about that to come).  The kids were super excited when we read in our Winter Promise materials that extended family is typically invited to a Chinese New Year dinner, and so our simple homemade dinner morphed into a full-fledged dinner party.
Fortunately for me, Winter Promise made this easy.  With menu ideas, customs, and much more all included, this was an easy way to add an element of fun to our study.
My Big Helper created a beautiful invitation on red paper, written with a golden-inked pen.
My Little Man made these beautiful lanterns for on our chandelier.  He decorated them with that same golden pen, and the effect was quite stunning.
After quite a bit of research, we planned a menu that we felt incorporated many of the traditional Chinese elements we were reading about.  We made sure to include as many of symbolic foods as we could, and there were lots.  For example, we served long noodles, which is symbolic of the hope for along life, and seafood, which is symbolic for the hope for wealth.  This made our table look somewhat like a buffet, but it gave us a good opportunity to try new things.   
Despite our research, our food was not exactly authentic.  I don’t have the right sort of pans or kitchen set-up to cook many dishes at once, so we planned semi-correct things – dishes that would give us the right flavors but prepared a different way.  The kids prepped the main dishes, Mongolian Beef and Sesame Chicken, and while My Little Man had a blast doing it, My Big Helper decided that raw meat is ‘yucky.’

Despite our lack of woks, everything came out well.  Most of the Mongolian Beef was devoured.

There were even fewer appetizers left – apparently dumplings, egg rolls, and rangoons are a bit hit with this family.
We had a great time at our Chinese New Year feast and discovered several new talents.  My Little Man is an expert chopstick user.  Egg rolls are easier to make than I thought.
The best part, though, was talking afterwards.  We talked about how the Chinese culture was lots of fun to study, but about how happy we are to know that our futures are not dependent upon serving the proper foods or appeasing the right gods.  We can’t change our future by eating long noodles or short ones, but we do know the One who holds our futures, and there’s freedom in knowing that He’s planning a good one for us.
Although, as good as those long noodles were, we’ll probably eat them again, anyway – just for fun.
Thanks, Winter Promise!

World Tour – Italian Lasagna


Lasagna isn’t something I make often, simply because my family just isn’t that fond of noodles.  I love it, though, so when we began our study of Italy, I knew it had to be on the menu.


After collecting all of the ingredients, I started planning out our day and realized something:  this was a meal that my children could make almost entirely by themselves.  They both love to help in the kitchen, but they are both at that stage where they are really proud to be able to tell Daddy that they made a dish entirely on their own.  I determined that this meal would be theirs.


To prep it, I browned the meat for the lasagna and allowed it to cool a bit.  I set out all of the ingredients for the pasta dish and then called my Big Helper.  She put up her hair, tied on an apron, and set to work.




First, we mixed one egg with a 15 ounce carton of ricotta cheese.  We opened a jar of tomato sauce and added a oregano, basil, and garlic, crushing the first two between our fingers in order to release the flavors.  She added a teaspoon of sugar to cut the acid, then stirred it up and pronounced it ready.



After spreading the bottom of the baking dish with a bit of sauce, she grabbed a lasagna noodle and used a child’s table knife to spread it with the ricotta mixture.  I measured and cut several noodles and then let her have at it.  When she had a layer ready, she laid them in the pan and topped them with more sauce.  Then she added some of the browned meat (we used sausage, but ground beef works just as well), a sprinkling of mozzarella, and then began again with the noodles.  Repeat four or five times.


After topping the whole dish with another layer of cheese to top it off, we covered it with foil and put it in the oven at 350 for about an hour.  At that point we removed the foil and gave it a few more minutes to brown the top.


I had fully prepared myself to be cleaning sauce off the ceiling by the time she was done, but not so.  Aside from a bit of ricotta that had dripped from the noodles, the counter was in very good shape.  Impressive!

When the lasagna was nearly finished baking, I called my Little Man to come make the salads.  He pulled a chair to the other side of the counter, and as I chopped the veggies, he arranged everything on each person’s plate.  (I think he ate as much as he distributed, but still.)  He was quite proud of his efforts, and we all got our salads made to order that night.

Having stuck the makings of Italian herb bread in the bread machine that morning, we were soon ready to eat.

My Big Helper’s lasagna was excellent, and she was so excited that she passed up her usual sandwich the next day at lunchtime in order to have leftovers.

This meal was perfect for her to prepare because everything (barring the meat) was assembled cold – and with a bit of prep beforehand, that could be, too.  I definitely need to get more meal plans ready that they can do – they were so excited to help,and they’re learning valuable kitchen skills at the same time!

What do your children help you with in the kitchen?

France – Chicken Cordon Bleu

Each week I try to have at least one nice dinner where we can all eat together and not be in a rush.  We generally are all home and eat at the same time, but often someone’s hurrying off somewhere or bathtime is approaching.

I decided this week to make our French dinner our fancy one, and we served chicken cordon bleu.

This isn’t difficult, and it tastes great – but it calls for ingredients we don’t always keep on hand, and it makes a mess getting it ready for the oven – but after that, it’s easy as pie.  Well, easier, maybe.

Here’s my easier American version:

–  Slice open boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

–  Lay a thin slice of ham inside and top that with a slice of Swiss cheese.  Fold the chicken closed and secure it with toothpicks.

–  Give the chicken a bath in melted butter and then dredge it in seasoned bread crumbs.

–  Lay on a greased baking sheet (I lined mine with foil for easier clean-up) and bake at 350F for about an hour.

Next, we made a simple bechamel sauce to go with it.

– Melt two tablespoons of butter.  Stir in two tablespoons of flour.

– Slowly pour in milk – maybe a cup? – and stir slowly over medium-low heat until sauce is thickened.

– Add shredded cheese of your choice to taste.  Swiss would be yummy! but we were out, so we used cheddar.

– Pour over your cooked chicken.

Our finished plates looked like this:

Voila!  Chicken cordon bleu!  

We all liked this dish.  I used to stuff chicken with cheese and broccoli often but quit doing that when the kids came along since it’s a bit more labor intensive.  This was so popular, though, that I may have to start doing it again!

Do you stuff your chicken?  With what??