Baking with Mary Todd Lincoln

Disclosure Pic

We’ve been studying the Civil War, and no study would be complete without learning about the Lincolns.  We found that Mrs. Lincoln held parties with elaborate food, and that she served a certain cake to Abraham when they were courting.

Of course, my dessert-loving Big Helper decided to make that cake. She chose to use this recipe to recreate a vanilla-almond pound cake with a simple glaze.

Baking with Mary Todd Lincoln

This history lesson was fun but not easy.  It took my Big Helper two full hours to mix it up, and she’s not new to baking.  There were several techniques that were new to her, and she took her time, determined to get it all right.

By the time the cake was complete, she had learned how to separate eggs, how to whip egg whites and fold them into a batter, how to make a glaze, how to butter and glaze a baking dish, and about the proper proportions for a cake.

Mary Todd Lincoln

The finished cake is delicious, but it’s not just cake to the one who made it.  To her, it’s the realization that baking is harder than she thought.  It’s knowing that Abraham Lincoln ate a cake that tasted just like the one that she herself has eaten.  It’s putting her hand into history and blending it with the present.

We’ll definitely be combining more home ec with history.

How do you bring history alive for your kids?

Check out these resources for more information:


Shared at:

A Little R & R

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Love, Ruby Lavender”

Disclosure Pic

When I first read Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles, I knew it would make a great book club pick.

About  a young girl dealing with the loss of her father, a busy mother, and her best-friend Grandma who’s away for the summer, it’s full of chickens, zucchini, and adventures with the new girl next door.  It’s the most realistic modern story we’ve read in a while, but recreating some of Ruby Lavender’s adventures guaranteed to be fun.

Girls' Book Club

Whenever Ruby Lavender started really missing her grandmother, she’d visit her house and slip into one of her bright pink Hawaiian muu-muus.  I decided that we couldn’t really celebrate this story without attempting to make our own.

Girls' Book Club

We started with plain white twin bedsheets cut in half.  The girls each ironed theirs and then pinned it in half again to make a basic sheath.  We folded raw edges under and sewed them and cut out necklines and stitched those.

Girls' Book Club

While I helped the girls iron, pin, and stitch in turn, the other girls decorated notebooks to use with someone special.  In the story, Ruby Lavender hid letters to her grandmother in a knot in a special tree just outside of town, and her grandmother would find the notes and reply.  We decided to do the same thing in a special notebook, so the girls collaged, glued, and stickered away to make something unique.


A few of the girls had never used a sewing machine before, and for others it had been a long time.  My Big Helper and one other young seamstress did a great job about answering questions and helping their friends get ready to sew while I was busy elsewhere. 

Girls' Book Club

After finishing their notebooks, the girls who were waiting for help with their muu-muus moved on to a cooking project.  Ruby Lavender’s mother works as a home economist and was challenged with creating new zucchini recipes, so I gave the same project to the girls.  One girl decided to chop hers and scramble it with some eggs.

Girls' Book Club

These girls paired up to marinate and grill their zucchini.  They made a great team!

Girls' Book Club

My Big Helper decided to saute hers and make her own sauce.  She really enjoyed experimenting with ingredients and flavor combinations.

After the muu-muus were completely stitched, the girls painted flower outlines on them with Elmer’s glue.  We hung them on a makeshift clothesline in the sun to dry, and then dipped the whole thing into fuschia fabric dye.

The glue acted as a batik and repelled the dye, creating beautiful white flowers on the muu-muus sewn out of t-shirt fabric.  The other, slipperier fabric didn’t hold the glue as well, and their muu-muus are more solid in color, but still a pretty pink.

There was a lot happening in this book club event, and it lasted all day!  Still, the girls did a great job sewing their muu-muus and creating new recipes.  They were careful and responsible, and I heard them discussing the story while they worked.

I love that – when a book makes such an impression that it pulls your attention away from the art project or craft at hand.


What are your kids reading this week?

This post has been shared at:

My Reading Table

A Little R & R



NEW! “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics” Linked Novel Study

Disclosure Pic

You might remember that we love Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.  We loved it so much that we made it a book club pick for both the boys and the girls and we’ve read it over and over.

That’s why we were over the moon excited to find out that Grabenstein wrote a sequel – Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics!

Chris Grabenstein

This book is just as exciting as the first one.  Grabenstein again layered in history and science among library science and codes and painted the whole thing fun.

There are so many threads to pull, in fact, that I wrote curriculum and extension activities to go with it!  You’ll find everything from the typical vocabulary and essay assignments to more creative science, history, and art projects.  Also included are printables, cooking projects, and a recipe for Mr. Lemoncello’s favorite drink, Lemonberry Fizz.

The activities in this packet are great for upper elementary and middle school kids, as well as homeschoolers and book clubbers.  With nearly 80 pages of projects and a wide range of responses, you’ll find something to suit every learning style here.

You can find out more and download your own copy in my TpT store here.  I’d love to know what you think!

What are your kids reading?

Shared at:

A Little R & R


Homeschooling: The Civil War in Action

Disclosure Pic

We’ve been working our way through American history this year, and we’ve reached a major milestone:  the Civil War.

Civil War

A group of us have formed our own living history co-op, and so this semester we spent the day living the time of the Civil War. 

We started out taking lots of pictures, because the kids look way too cute to pass that up.


Then an older homeschool student visited us to serenade us with ‘Taps’ on his bugle.  The haunting notes were beautiful and echoed through the air.  We could imagine them floating through the camps.

Civil War

Then many of the kids opted to give their reports.  Each one had studied a person alive at the time of the Civil War and had come dressed as their character.  Many had prepped info to share.  My Big Helper chose to study Elizabeth van Lew, a spy for the Union based in Richmond, and My Little Man studied Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, leader of the 54th Massachusetts, the first all-black regiment.

Civil War

Later we dug into our activities.  Each family had planned one.  The kids worked together to build tents, Union-camp style, so they could see how the soldiers lived during the war.

Civil War

Another family built a telegraph from scratch and demonstrated how to use it.  The kids split themselves into two groups and practiced using Morse code to send messages back and forth.

Civil War

One family brought small blocks of balsam wood, and the kids carved out letters to block print them.  Journalists covering the battles would have printed their newspapers this way during the war.

Civil War

My Big Helper is now one of the biggest kids in the group.  She’s had the opportunity to practice planning and giving presentations over the past year, and this event was perfect for her to do another.  She prepared her own activity to teach to the other kids, and she did a great job.  Speaking as van Lew, her character, she shared several codes and the ways that she moved them to her handlers.  Then she gave the kids the way to crack the codes and asked them to translate the messages.

There were several other activities, as well – the kids built games, played games, and learned about the Underground Railroad.  They played in a field hospital lean-to and waved flags and banners.Each family also brought an authentic dish to share, and so we feasted on molasses cookies, hominy, fried potatoes, orangeades, and many other delicious foods for lunch.

While the Civil War was anything but fun, it was important.  This day gave our kids the opportunity to smell some of the smells, to taste the foods, to know the dangers and the skills that people staked their lives upon.

The Civil War means more to my kids than it did a week ago, and they have new skills to go with that new appreciation.

How do you bring history to life for your kids?

These resources will help!

Shared at:

A Little R & R

Book Club, Survival Edition: “The Secret Island”

Disclosure Pic


I first heard about The Secret Island by Enid Blyton while eavesdropping in the library. 

Awful, right?

I didn’t mean to – but some kids were super excited about a book that they’d read and were happily discussing it with the librarian.  They all seemed so in love with it that I knew we had to check it out.

We loved it as much as those other kids did, and so we chose it for April’s book club pick.

The Secret Island was written long ago and is about a group of children who were living with extended family and were all being mistreated.  They band together and run away to a small island in the middle of a lake, where the live for six months, building a shelter, earning money, and finding food.  While the beginning is sad and the children rather rebellious, there are many opportunities for discussion, and the survival lessons within the book are wonderful.

Book Club

That’s why we went for survival training for this club meeting.  One student’s older brother is a Trail Life-er and volunteered to teach.  He did an amazing job!  Since someone else was teaching, we had a joint boys-and-girls meeting for this book, and while that definitely upped the ‘crazy’ factor for all of us, the kids had a great time.

After we discussed the book, our young teacher got us started with paracord.  He based our meeting on ‘what if we were stranded in the wilderness with only a knife, some paracord, and a survival blanket?’ 

After learning about the benefits of this cording, we headed out into the woods to simulate being lost.  The kids loved this activity.  They quickly banded together into groups and looked for materials with which to build shelters.

Some went for a teepee-style structure, which looked pretty easy to build – but where would all these kids sleep?

Book Club

Others tried to build a more traditional house, with sides and a roof, using the blanket as the roof.  (Still another group went lean-to style, but I never was able to get a picture of theirs.)

Book Club

Upon returning to our house, we returned our attention to paracord.  Our leader taught the kids how to make paracord bracelets that they could wear to be prepared in an emergency.  It took a little while for the kids to figure out how to make them, but as each one caught on, s/he taught another, well demonstrating the ‘each one teach one’ philosophy.  Soon everyone was sporting a camo paracord bracelet!

Book Club

While we had been doing all of this, a peach cobbler prepared by our teacher had been cooking away in a Dutch oven in the driveway.  With only a small amount of time left, he broke out the ice cream and cobbler and we celebrated our new survival skills in a very delicious way.

Our young teacher had other activities planned, as well, that would have taught amazing other skills, but the kids were so enthralled with shelter building and bracelet making that time didn’t allow for any more. 

Although a young teenager, our leader did a great job of planning and sharing his skills with our group of kids.  Their enthusiasm always keeps me on my toes, and despite the fact that he’s not much older than some of the book clubbers themselves, he was quite professional and was able to answer all of their questions.  I love when I see one of our younger ones showing responsibility and dependability, and this young man has it in spades.

Although it’s been several days since the book club event, my kids have been peppering me with questions about what they learned from their survival guide.  They’re interested in heading to REI to look at survival equipment and in trying out their new skills. 

The Secret Island would be a story great for arcing into an overnight campout, a camping unit, or a mission project to help kids – like the ones in the book – whose at-home conditions are less than ideal.

What sort of survival skills do your kids have?

Check out these survival products to host your own Secret Island-style event:


Shared at:

A Little R & R

Learning to Write with Author Jenny L. Cote

Disclosure Pic

Our recent visit to Patrick Henry’s Red Hill was exciting for more reasons than the hands-on ones I shared yesterday.  It’s where we got to meet author Jenny L. Cote for a writing workshop.

Jenny L. Cote

I’ve always wanted to go to a book signing, and although I’ve gotten a few invitations from authors whose books I’ve reviewed (eeek!  excitement!)  they’ve always been too far away.

That’s why I was extra excited to sign us up for a writing workshop with author Jenny L. Cote following homeschool day at Red Hill.

The event was scheduled by Red Hill and was entitled, “If This Be Fiction, Make the Most of It!”  Cote used this parody of a famous Patrick Henry quote to teach about the various ways that an author prepares and plans the story (and her next three books will involve Patrick Henry).

Cote shared about writing techniques, like researching, but she extended each concept beyond the basic.  She challenged the listeners to go beyond the library and the internet to the world beyond.  She asked us to think big and dream bigger and to take action on those ideas.  The workshop was not a do-this-then-that kind of class but more of an inspirational lecture based on the author’s own experiences.  She has traveled the world doing research for her books and had loads of amazing stories and pictures to share.

Hearing Jenny L. Cote speak made me wish I had a story in my head that I could zoom off to research (another dream of mine – maybe someday?) but her visit wasn’t just about writing itself.  Her lessons were really all about life.

Shouldn’t we all dream big?  Trust God for miracles?  Approach Him boldly?  See beyond the words on a page to the miraculous wonders they share?

My Big Helper finished Cote’s first book on our way to Red Hill, and she was bubbling over with excitement about it.  She purchased the next two and Cote signed all three.  Now My Little Man is reading the story and he’s just as enthralled as his big sister is.

I love when an author inspires a reader to greatness.  I love when a book makes you loath to put it down.

Cote has done both with my children, and after meeting her, I’m quite excited to begin them myself.

Want to read Cote’s books for yourself?  You can find them all here:


Shared at:

A Little R & R


Getting Colonial with Patrick Henry

Disclosure Pic

I love history.  I love field trips.  I really love when I can combine the two.  That’s why I was extra excited to find out that Patrick Henry’s final home was within an hour of our home.

Patrick Henry

Due to a busy and stressful week and the forecast of thunderstorms, I wasn’t in the greatest frame of mind the night before the trip, though.  I even considered skipping it altogether.

I share that so you can understand just how amazing this field trip was – because it took a lot to get me out of my initial funk, but it wasn’t long before I was fully on board with this Patrick Henry’s mission.

Patrick Henry

I love taking the kids to living-history kinds of places because they can see and smell and hear things we can’t recreate at home.

The people at Red Hill went all out, though, because they let the kids participate in every. single. activity.

They got to TOUCH stuff, too. 

Not many living history places do that.  The artifacts are too delicate to allow mass quantities of people to touch them, but Red Hill made it happen.

Split into groups, we rotated through stations throughout the plantation, and our group began in a shelter at the edge of the forest, with the house and the mountains in sight, with Patrick Henry Jolly, great-great-great-great-great-grandson of the famous Patrick Henry.

Mr. Jolly spoke to us about his ancestor’s early life; about his education, work ethic, and family.  We learned about his most famous speeches and why he made them.  Even this presentation was interactive, however, because in the end we all stood and Mr. Jolly gave us an acting lesson so that we could get into the character of Patrick Henry.  We acted and recited a few lines from the famous “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech before getting autographs and moving on to our next station.

Patrick Henry

This one was even better (sorry, Mr. Jolly) because My Big Helper has wanted to learn to weave for years but has not been allowed to touch a loom at any of the events we’ve been to –  and it’s not a purchase that’s in our foreseeable future.  The teacher at this station taught another adult how to use the loom, and while some of the kids began to weave …

Patrick Henry

she worked with others at a spinning wheel.  It looked like quite a lot of fun – and after each student had made some yarn, she cut a piece off and tied it around their wrist to take home.  How cool is that?

Patrick Henry

The Colonial medicine station was particularly interesting to me, even though the weather worsened at this point.  We learned how to make tinctures, teas, salves, infusions, and decoctions.  I was seriously disappointed that the steady rain prevented us from going to the fire to make whatever they had prepared, because it sounded great to me. 

Patrick Henry

We were particularly amazed at the blacksmith’s shop, where, after learning about the importance of this trade for the survival of a plantation, each student was invited to don safety gear and attempt to make a nail.  To pound hot steel.  Flying sparks.  Hot tools.  For real.  This was exciting.

Patrick Henry

None of the students succeeded in making their own nail completely, but the blacksmith helped them all out, and each student left with a finished nail.

Patrick Henry

At the pottery shop, we learned about the history of pottery.  The students got to work with air-dry clay to make simple medallions that they could place on a necklace.

Patrick Henry

Then the real fun began, because each one got a turn at the kick-wheel to help shape this lump of clay.  Nobody knew what was being made, but by the time each student had followed the teacher’s directions, they had worked together to make a creamer, handle, spout, and all.

Patrick Henry

We also toured the house, visited the gift shop and museum, and had lunch, and at that point the organized homeschool day event was over – but we weren’t finished.

Having seen the family cemetery on the map, we headed over to check it out.  It is always interesting to me to see old gravestones, and we all enjoy studying the carving and thinking about the special people remembered by these stones.  My Big Helper made a bouquet of wildflowers and added them to the stone.

Patrick Henry

She found the flowers here, in the fields behind the house leading down to the Staunton River.  The buttercups were blooming and the fields were beautiful, and we all had fun running around and taking in the view.

Patrick Henry

Having met up with Patrick Henry again, he clued us in to a part of the plantation that wasn’t on our map – the Quarter Place Trail and the African-American cemetery.  This clearing in the forest was the slave cemetery prior to the Civil War, although some people continued to be buried there until 1923.  Marked only by forest rocks, there is little evidence that any number of graves exist here.  The location and difference in site from the other grave sites made for an interesting discussion on the way home.

Our trip to Red Hill taught us a great deal about a man who should be remembered for more than just a few famous words.  Patrick Henry didn’t just talk about his beliefs as many others did, but he took action at a time when that required great courage.  His bravery, intelligence, and ingenuity is what helped to shape both the American Revolution and this nation, and these are traits I hope to teach our children.

All in all, this was one of the best living history field trips we’ve taken in a very long time.  I can’t wait to go back.

Want to know more about Patrick Henry?  Check out this resource:


Shared at:

A Little R & R

Touring Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookie Factory

Disclosure Pic

Recently a friend organized a field trip to Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookie Factory.  How could we pass that up?

Moravian Cookies

I had never had a Moravian cookie before, so we were all excited to find out.  The factory is a few hours away, so we set out early in the morning, and we really had no idea what to expect.

Moravian Cookies

We soon found out that Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies is a family operation going back decades.  They use Mrs. Hanes’ original recipes and continue to make every single cookie by hand.  The cookies are mixed in giant mixers, then chilled and rolled, cut, and baked individually.

Moravian Cookies

These cookies come in six different flavors (the original ginger, sugar, black walnut, lemon, chocolate, and butterscotch) and ship all over the world.  In the back of the lobby is this special area where international orders are shipped out, and they mark each new country on the map above.

Quincy Jones places an order of cookies every year for Christmas.  A few years ago he gifted some to Oprah Winfrey, who then named them as one of her famous favorite things.  Ever since, cookie sales have exploded, and while you can order these yummy cookies any time, they spend the majority of the year baking to fill Christmas orders.

Moravian Cookies

Our tour guide was wonderful.  She took us to six different stations throughout the factory, teaching us about the process, the schedule it takes to prepare for Christmas and daily orders, and the history of the company.  She answered many questions from our little ones, too.

Moravian Cookies

The best part?  She gave us a whole cookie at each station, and we got to try all six flavors.  They’re all good, but the lemon and the chocolate are my personal favorites.

Moravian Cookies

In one part of the building, many pieces of Mrs. Hanes’ house exist to show visitors how the company began.  It was very interesting to see the original stove and materials that she used to bake these cookies.  I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to bake these paper-thin cookies in a wood-burning oven.  It must have taken serious skill!

Want to know more?  You can take a pictorial tour online here.  Don’t forget to order your cookies, too – they’re well worth it.

Check out these other Moravian resources:


Touring the World at iFest

Disclosure Pic

Last week we headed to the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG) campus to check out a special event, and while we were there, we stumbled upon another – a very fun one: 


iFest, an international festival set up outdoors and hosted by internationals from all over the world.


There were dozens of booths, some manned by organizations, others manned by students from a single country or by a few from neighboring countries.  My Big Helper loved exploring this South Korean booth because the hosts had games, crafts and food for her to try. 


The Israeli booth was another fun one.  With a two-part trivia game designed to test your knowledge, the students gave candy away as prizes and were liberal with their hints so that everyone would win – both the sweet treats and some new information about their home.


The people at the Polish/Ukraine table were answering questions about their countries and had a variety of fun foods to try – the pierogis and some sort of poppyseed swirl bread being my favorites.  One girl would ask your name and then draw it in Cyrillic.  I say ‘draw’ because her movements looked much more like drawing than writing to me, and the finished product is absolutely beautiful.  When finished, she rolled it up and tied a ribbon around it, sending each person home with their own unique scroll.

iFest is a wonderful event.  We didn’t have enough time to visit every booth, and the day’s extreme wind made some visits difficult – but the Middle Eastern clothing was beautiful, delicious food aromas were coming from every angle, and the square was filled with the sounds of exotic music, to which people were dancing on a distant stage.  This is a great way for natives to teach about their home countries and for us all to learn a little bit about other cultures – because in the end, everyone was proud of their home and happy to share pieces of it.

Want to learn about other cultures but don’t have an iFest near you?  Check out these great resources!



When Art & Nature Journals Collide

Disclosure Pic

With sickness lingering and the grumpies encroaching, we all wanted something fun to do.  Since school was called off only because of nasty germs and not because we’d planned a break, I wanted something that would be fun enough to satisfy but studious enough to be considered school.  I still wanted that break, albeit later.  With sunny skies beckoning outside, I wanted to make good use of those, and so our science journals were calling my name – but then everyone would scatter.

While we enjoy doing those science journals, I anticipated complaints from those still feeling yucky about having to measure and detail anything specific.

Since I’d been wanting an art day for quite some time, this seemed the perfect time to break out the paint, but … springtime blooms screamed for study.

I decided to combine the two.

Science Journals

Instead of working on our traditional nature journals, I sent the kids out to find a pretty bloom.  My Big Helper came back with a beautiful dogwood blossom, and My Little Man found a tiny indigo flower with five petals.  They cheered when I pulled out canvases and paints.

We settled onto the deck with art supplies all around us, and with a good story going in the CD player, they got to work.  They painted and we listened and everyone worked for several hours.

Friends came to visit and we stopped to play.  In the end, tiredness won out and we resumed painting later.

But the kids were super excited to keep going by that point.


Both kids continued to paint additional pictures after the first assignment, and both of them were careful to examine their flowers in detail and add those into their work.

I think we’ll be doing more collision-style art in the future.

Do you do nature journals?  I’d love to  hear about your style!

We typically use a simple notebook we decorated just for this purpose, but our canvas work this day was especially fun.  Here are some other things we incorporate to mix up our science work:


Shared at:

A Little R & R