World Tour – European Castles

While studying Germany and France we looked online at webshots and saw some amazing pictures of castles.
When we began to study the United Kingdom, we decided that this was the time to really dig into the history of castles:  how they were built, who built them, who lived in them, what they looked like, and what castle life was like.
We started out by reading a few good books for background information:
  • The Knight at Dawn by Mary Pope Osborne
  • The Best Book of Knights and Castles by Deborah Jane Murrell
  • Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures:  Medieval Castle by Joanna Cole


Of course, now that we knew all about castles, we had to build our own.
We hit up a local grocery store for some boxes and completely lucked out.  They let us take as many as we wanted – and they had really big paper towel cartons that hadn’t been broken down yet!
After getting them home, the kids carried them down to the back yard.
And soon the assembly began!
My Big Helper was much more interested in the construction than the little guy, and she developed a plan for how to build it.  We broke out a knife, and after she drew the lines for the cuts and for the drawbridge, I started cutting.
We lined up the boxes and used heavy tape to cover the seams, inside and out.
Then they used smaller boxes that we had been saving to construct different things inside – beds, bathtubs, etc.  They both got really excited about planning the interior layout!
Next, the kids decided to embellish their castle with paint.  We broke out some ancient clothes we didn’t mind staining and a few old buckets of paint leftover from various household projects.
My Little Man didn’t stick with painting in one place for long …
My Big Helper got a bit more creative and used both colors to paint doors, window panes, and decorations on the drawbridge.  
The whole thing never did get painted, but they had a blast – and they were so creative!  We had loads of fun learning about castles – and the whole project was completely free, too.
Who knew you could have so much fun with some old cardboard??
Do your kids play with old boxes?  What do they do with them?

World Tour – An English Tea Party

Who can study the UK without studying tea?  We read about tea traditions online, and then we chose a date and time for our tea party.

My Big Helper created an invitation for her friend, and we delivered it to her mailbox that night.

We chose to have our tea party on an early release day from school – so the Big Helper and her friend were finished at noon.  My Little Man and I picked them both up, and then they played while I added the finishing touches to our table.

I covered the table with a simple tablecloth and used a cake plate to arrange our treats.  We planned our menu after studying the recipes on this site.   We learned that it is standard to have a few sandwiches (usually with a cream cheese base), to have a few sweets, and to have something fruity.

We made our menu be a kid-friendly version of this.  We served cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with the crusts cut off and in different shapes for easy identification.  We also made simple cream puffs, brownies, blueberry muffins, and crumpets.  We served everything with strawberry jelly and honey.  Instead of tea (to avoid the caffeine and sugar), My Little Man chose to have sugar-free strawberry juice.

When the time arrived, our trio decided to “dress” for tea.  I”m not quite sure how they think the Brits appear for tea, but they were having too much fun for me to rain on their parade.

Studying England:  An English Tea Party @ A Nest in the Rocks

My Big Helper took her role as hostess very seriously, and she practiced pouring for days leading up to the party with a miniature tea set.

All three children found this small set difficult to use, but they got a kick out of using it – and they loved holding onto the lid to keep it from flying off!

Tea didn’t last long – the kids were too hungry and too excited to try everything to linger.  They inhaled several pots of ‘tea’ and sampled everything on the platter – which I refilled several times.  We decided that English crumpets are not quite for us, and they weren’t fond of cream puffs, either, but they loved the idea of different sandwiches in shapes according to a certain identification ‘code.’

While I thought they might have eaten enough to warrant a very small supper, they were true to the tea party spirit and were ready for another meal just a bit later.

I’m definitely seeing more tea parties in our future – and we’ll be checking out the UK section of Epcot to see what tasty treats they might feature!

Do your kids have tea parties?  How do their parties work?

Field Work Friday – Egyptians in the NC Museum of Art

This week we traveled to the North Carolina Museum of Art for a tour of the international collections.  This worked well for us since we are studying Egypt, and they have a pretty neat Egyptian collection.
Guest posting for me today are My Little Man and My Big Helper to share what they learned on this trip.
This ship from Egypt. This is the ship that would carry the Pharaoh to the Afterlife.  The person in front is playing a drum to tell the rowers to work together rowing.  The Pharoah is sitting under the shade.
This coffin was made for a queen. There were hieroglyphics and pictures all over.  
That is a coffin.  A dead person goes inside the coffin.  It is called a sarcophagus in Egypt.
These are gold plates.  They go on the mummy, plus a death mask.

This door was the door of a tomb. It is made out of stone.  The Egyptians believed that the spirits would come out of it. 

These are gifts because the Egyptians believed that in the Afterlife they would need their things.

Our tour guide was wonderful about explaining things in terms that everyone could understand.  We had a great time on our tour, and seeing real Egyptian artifacts was pretty cool, too!

What interesting things have you found in an art museum?

Field Work Friday – Ice Cream in a Bag

June is National Dairy Month, and with the heat we’ve been having, I’ve been craving ice cream!  We decided to head to a local park and make some.

First, though, we had to get some energy out and work up a good sweat.  Who can eat ice cream when they’re as cool as a cucumber?

Next, we had to hike over to the new dock and throw a few rocks and pine cones in the lake.  Really, who could possibly concentrate on cooking when all that cool water is beckoning?

Finally, we were ready to make ice cream.  This recipe is super simple and can be prepared in about 20 minutes.  You can make it one of two ways:  in nested freezer bags, or in nested coffee cans.  The cans are my favorite because you can then roll the cans back and forth and make the work into a game – but the bags work just as well.

First, in either your small can or one quart freezer bag, pour 1 cup of whipping cream (or any non-homogenized cream), 1/2 cup of sugar, and a splash of vanilla.  Seal it tightly and put it into the larger container – either the larger coffee can or a 1 gallon freezer bag.

Layer ice and rock salt in the outer bag or can and then seal that.  If you are using the cans, start rolling them back and forth.  If you’re using the bags, turn on some music and have a dance party!  The idea is to keep that cream moving, moving, moving, until it thickens up into ice cream.  Don’t let the cream stop moving!

This guy turned his bag over and over and over and … well, you get the idea.

When it has reached the consistency you like, open the bags very carefully – you don’t want to get the salty water from the outer container in the ice cream! – and scoop out your ice cream.  Add any toppings you like – but it’s really great plain, too (and I don’t even like vanilla ice cream!).

I meant to take a picture of the finished product … but we were too busy eating it.  I forgot.  It was really yummy.

Next time your kids are hot and a bit bored, get out some bags, crank up the music, and make some ice cream!

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Understood Betsy”

Understood Betsy
When I was a little girl my grandmother gave me a copy of “Understood Betsy” by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  As winter approached and we began to make plans for our January book club, I knew this was the perfect choice.
Understood Betsy is the story of Elizabeth Ann, a young girl who is being raised by her maiden aunts – at least, she was until one of the aunts takes sick and needs to go to a warmer climate to recover.  Elizabeth Ann is sent to live with other relatives nearby, and when their circumstances change, as well, she is shipped off via train to live with those Putney cousins in Vermont.  On this mountainous Vermont farm, Elizabeth Ann begins to think for herself – and has all sorts of adventures.
Undestood Betsy is a fantastic story – one you’ll want to read again and again.  We had a great time celebrating this book Betsy-style – and we hope you will, too.   
After talking about the book, we built a fire with a flint and steel.  Since there was a polar vortex happening outside our Southern home, this was quite appropriate, and we appreciated the warmth of the fire.  It made our meeting extra special to be cozied up to the fireplace!
 Next we made butter from cream.  None of the other girls had done this before, and they quickly got tired of shaking the jar. 


They appreciated the finished product, though, and enjoyed squeezing out the buttermilk like Betsy did, although they didn’t like the taste of the buttermilk!

Since we weren’t sugaring, and it wasn’t snowing, there wasn’t an easy way to recreate Betsy’s waxing of the maple syrup in the snow.  I did learn a few things about New England and maple syrup from visiting my grandmother as a kid, though, and so we churned our own vanilla ice cream.  While the churn was going, we did a blind taste test of real maple syrup and a fast food restaurant’s syrup.  (The real stuff was identified by nearly every child by appearance alone, and every single one choose it in the taste test.)  After our ice cream was ready, we topped it with maple syrup, New England-style, and headed back to the fire for our snack.

In the book, Betsy and her friends make a new outfit for a little boy in the hopes of helping him get adopted.  While we’ve taking on several simple sewing projects, I opted not to try to make pants.  Instead, we knotted scarves for a scarf mission in Scituate, Massachusetts.

When each girl finished making her scarf, she decorated a simple card to go with it.  They were really creative with these!

We had a great time celebrating Understood Betsy style, and we really packed a lot into the few hours that we had.  This is the perfect winter book – and since it takes place about a hundred years ago, there are many skills to practice throughout the reading.

Have you read Understood Betsy?

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “The Smuggler’s Treasure” An American Girl Mystery

Disclosure Pic

Smuggler's Treasure

 It’s book club time again!  We ate well this month after reading The Smuggler’s Treasure, an American Girl History Mystery set in New Orleans during the War of 1812.

I had the chance to visit New Orleans a few years ago – back before Katrina – and so we talked about the culture and what makes the city unique – the Cajun culture, the heat and humidity, the architecture – and then we talked about the food.  Food is always fun to talk about, but especially when the book you’ve read is set in a bakery!
Our club meeting just happened to be scheduled for Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, and while that wasn’t mentioned in the book, beignets were – and since I come from an area where doughnuts are the traditional way to fry the fat and sugar out of your cupboards before Lent, we decided to do the same.
First we got our dough ready.  Beignets use yeast, so we talked about the science of how yeast makes bread rise as we watched it wake up and act.  The girls seemed to think that was pretty cool.
 When the dough was ready, we rolled it out and used a pizza cutter to shape the squares.  I wasn’t sure we’d have enough at this point, because we really wanted to be able to share outside the club, so we started on another batch.


Then we moved them to a tray so we could roll and slice the second batch …

and while all of the dough was rising, we headed off to talk future careers.  The main characters of our story were torn – one wanted to run the bakery someday, while the other wanted a different life.  After the girls each shared their dreams for their own future, they thought about how they would market their bakery – if they had one.  Each girl came up with a name and logo for her bakery – except for these three.  They decided to work together and did the project jointly.


Next it was time to fry the beignets.  The girls watched from a safe distance, and then after they drained, we dropped three into their bags on top of a small pile of powdered sugar, just as they’re served in Cafe du Monde now.


Then it was time to do the happy beignet dance and shake that sugar all over the hot pastries!  My Little Man couldn’t bear to be left out of this fun, so he grabbed a bag, designed his own logo, and hopped in line.


The girls polished off these beignets and some wanted more, so we tried them in the more traditional Amish style, dusted with regular sugar:

Both were great.  This was definitely a fun way to bring a bit of New Orleans’ culture into book club – and it’s one we’ll be repeating again. 
What are your kids reading now?
Bring the culture of New Orleans to your event with these fun products:

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “A Surprise for Lily”

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We are currently experiencing both the best and worst of times in our book club this month.
The best, because we had a really wonderful time reading and interacting with A Surprise for Lily by Suzanne Woods Fisher.
The worst because this is the last in the series.  There are no more Lily Lapp adventures to read.
Because Lily had so many outdoor adventures in this book, we decided to make our club meeting a whole-family affair and moved it to a local park.  


My husband manned the grill.  Although Lily usually roasts her hot dogs on a stick over the fire, that wasn’t possible for us in the park.  We enjoyed our freshly roasted hot dogs, anyway.  He makes a great grillmaster!


The girls enjoyed eating together and discussing the book, although they were really anticipating our next adventure …

boating!  We decided to take to the lake the way that Lily and Hannah did in the family rowboat – hopefully, though, without capsizing.  Together our families rented two canoes and two kayaks.  The kids took turns canoeing around the lake with some dads in charge …

while some of the older kids were able to kayak on their own.  They really loved this part!


Afterwards everyone played a spontaneous game of baseball.  The kids get along well together.  We’re happy not to have any rocky Lily-and-Aaron relationships at this point!

We have enjoyed reading this series together.  I’m sad that our time with Lily is ending.  Perhaps Suzanne Woods Fisher will write another great kids’ series.

You can read more about our other Lily Lapp book club adventures here:

“A Big Year for Lily”  by Suzanne Woods Fisher

What are your kids’ favorite books?