Field Work Friday – Makin’ Soap with Red Mountain Goodness

I have always wanted to learn how to make soap.  Maybe it started when I read about a pioneer doing so in one of my historical fiction novels.  I remember that coming up several times.
While I’m not interested in pouring lard through ashes or anything, soapmaking has remained at the top of my list of things to learn about for a long time, so I was super excited when a friend shared that there was a great soap company operating in the next county over.  I was even more excited when founder and owner of Red Mountain Goodness, Todd Hinson, immediately replied to my request for a lesson with a ‘Yes!’
Todd began by sharing with us how his company began.  A research scientist by training, he was working in that field when he began to develop a type of soap to help with his wife’s wintery skin.  Friends and family loved the result, and Red Mountain Goodness was born.
 The best part of Todd’s backstory was the way that he encouraged our kids.  He shared with them difficulties of beginning your own home-based business, some of the details and issues that were involved, marketing strategies, and the like; all provided great information and insight to our future entrepreneurs.  He told us several times, however, that we should not be afraid to look for a solution to a problem or to do something in a non-traditional way – that those are sometimes the things that help people the most.  That those things can make a difference.  
As a scientist, Todd looks at soap differently than many.  While we might be happy to have a soap that feels good at the moment and smells great, Todd is looking for all natural ingredients.  He talked with the kids about ingredient labels on products and how the list is graduated – so that the first ingredient listed is used the most by quantity, etc., and then he compared each ingredient in order to his soap.  Did you know that one of the most common soap companies in our country puts the main chemical in antifreeze into their soap?  UGH!
Then Todd demonstrated making his soap.  While he made it look easy, he takes great care when measuring and mixing the ingredients to provide a high-quality product for the consumers. 

His soaps contain olive oil …

coconut oil …

goat’s milk and lye.  Regardless of what other soap labels say, for a product to be a true soap, it must contain lye as an ingredient, but the lye is used up chemically during the soapmaking process, making the end product totally safe for your skin.

Combing the lye with the frozen goat’s milk creates an exothermic reaction, one that releases heat, and so we watched this reaction melt the goat’s milk.  My kids were fascinated by that part!

Todd has incorporated many scientific tools into the process of soapmaking.  This ‘self-stirrer’ (I don’t know the scientific name) allows liquids to be stirred using magnet technology.  Since the soap needs to be stirred for 15 minutes after the lye has finished reacting, Todd uses this handy tool to do the work.  My Big Helper thought that was quite ingenious.

The next order of business is to combine the oil mixture with the lye mixture.  Todd uses a regular immersion blender for this, and the kids in the group all loved watching the two elements begin to change color and for soap particles to form.

Todd scents his soaps with essential oils, and our group voted to make lavender soap.  It takes 40 mg of essential oil to scent the soap.  Todd shared with the kids the best way to measure liquids in a graduated cylinder, and their eyes were all big at the sight of his scientific equipment.

As one girl inquired, the soap must be put into something while it cures and hardens.  Todd explained that you can use anything, but he uses these soap molds.  Each batch of soap will make 16 bars, and while making such small batches is quite time-consuming for a business of this size, Todd is determined to maintain the high quality of his products and refuses to make bigger batches.

When the soap is ready, Todd poured it into the mold.  He then lifted it carefully and tapped it against the table to release any bubbles that might be hiding inside.  This reminded me of the trip that candy bars take on bouncing conveyor belts to do the same thing!  

Next the bars will hang out in the fridge overnight, and then be cut the next day.  They’ll then cure for a month, be wrapped, and cure for another month before being sold.  This means that each bar has been in production for a total of two months!  

Todd was a great presenter for our group.  We learned about entrepreneurship, about creativity and scientific method, about the role of chemicals in our society, on marketing and goal-setting, and much more.  I appreciate that so many kind people are willing to share their dreams and their knowledge with your young ones.  We can’t replicate that kind of education!

I also couldn’t replicate Todd’s soap!  It feels great on my skin, has a delightful scent, and the best part is knowing that I’m not absorbing antifreeze or any other crazy chemicals in the process of getting clean.

So – are you willing to give all-natural soap a try?

Field Work Friday – The Mad Hatter Bake Shop

This week our playgroup traveled to Durham to visit the Mad Hatter Bake Shop. We met with Dorian, the head pastry chef, for a ‘backstage’ tour of their kitchen.

After seeing the prep areas for the meals and the coffee bar, Dorian showed us the areas where she works the most.  We saw the ovens, where all of her cakes, pies, and other goodies are baked, and the racks where they are stored.  All Mad Hatter cakes are served the day after they are baked because they must cool before being decorated.  Each cake begins in the mixer, though. Isn’t this a doozy??

After being mixed, the cakes move to the oven.  It can hold several at one time!  Here’s a peek at the cakes in progress …

When everyone had finished the tour, we returned to the pastry station for a demonstration.  Dorian showed us how to decorate a coconut cream cake.  First, she piped in the filling and added the top layer, bottom side up so that she would have a flat surface to decorate.

Next, she piped buttercream icing all over the cake …

 and then she smoothed it out.

The cake was almost finished; it just needed coconut.  Dorian added it by the handful and pressed it in.

With our brains full of decorating know-how, Dorian sent us out to the cafe to decorate
our own Mad Hatter cupcakes.  (The really great thing about these cupcakes is that they are part of a cupcake kit that you can buy anytime – and that also comes with any kids’ meal.  How cool is that?)

Dorian brought us each a cupcake, a small piping bag full their yummy buttercream, and three varieties of sprinkles in small cups.  Luke began by piping his icing …

and finished by eating every last sprinkled bite.  He loved it!

Of course, before we left we had to check out the bakery cases to see what else looked good.

We decided that everything did!

Yes, we bake at home, and we decorate cakes at home, but there’s something about doing this in the middle of the hustle and bustle of this busy cafe that made it seem extra special.  Maybe it was having your very own mini piping bag.  Maybe it was the cute little cups that the sprinkles came in, or maybe it was seeing the fancy cakes just begging to be devoured in the cake case up front.  Maybe Dorian’s ease when decorating the coconut cream cake made us all ready to put on our own chef’s hat and dig in.  I think, though, that it was a little bit of all of these.

The Mad Hatter was busy and crowded and rumbling with computers, coffee machines, and study sessions, but it was a fun kind of busy, and when you top that with beautiful sugar, who wouldn’t want to go back?

We definitely will!

Field Work Friday – Lumpy’s Ice Cream Lab

This week we took the most amazing field trip – to Lumpy’s Ice Cream Lab in Wake Forest, NC!  
Lumpy’s is run by Buck, a chef from Vermont and now ice cream expert.  He planned Lumpy’s around solid business practices, with lots of food experience, and with good stewardship in mind.  
I must post a disclaimer here:  Normally, I would not be willing to drive over an hour to learn about ice cream.  I get the science behind the basic process, and we’ve been making it over and over using different methods during our current ice cream study.
But Lumpy’s – and Buck – is unique.  Not only does he sell ice cream, because anybody can do that, but he creates his very own flavors on site.  From local, fresh, as organic-and-natural-as-possible.
Yes, lots of people do that, too.  But Buck has over 300 flavors in his repertoire.  That’s NOT common.  Those flavors happen to have names as creative as the flavors, which change whenever Buck feels like making something new.
All of that reminded me of Ebenezer Bleezer, one of my favorite Jack Prelutsky poems.  Which we had to read during this unitThough Buck’s flavors sound much, much better than Bleezer’s.
He’s also mission-minded, having recently pledged to raise $5 MILLION dollars for the North Carolina Children’s Home over the next five years.  That’s the kind of business I want to support.
So what happened when we ventured out to Lumpy’s?
We began inside at the main counter of the store.  Buck taught us about the basic ingredients of ice cream and talked to us about the ways that he has incorporated good stewardship principles into his business.  This made a big impression on my Big Helper, who has started several of her own businesses over the past few years.  Buck also explained his personal work history and showed us just how hard he’s worked and how long he has prepared to be an entrepreneur.  
When we got home, and I asked the kids what they learned, the first thing that my Big Helper said was, “Mr. Buck worked for 23 years to be ready to start his ice cream business.  If I want to have a business, I can’t give up.”
Lesson learned.
Next we went outside to see the blast freezer, specially “imported” from Indiana and designed to be very energy efficient.  The kids were excited to see just how cold 25 degrees below 0 really was!
The restaurant was filled with quirky signs like this one.  It had a friendly appearance and made everyone smile each time they read a new sign – proving Lumpy’s logo to be true:  you really are just a scoop away from a smile when there.
Just before our tour ended, Buck ran a batch of Ande’s Candies ice cream through his churn and gave everyone samples.  It was SO GOOD that we all immediately got in line to buy more.  My Little Man chose a scoop of butter pecan, and my Big Helper picked a candy-free Almond Joy flavor that was out of this world.  Even the cone was homemade – and neither was happy at having to wait for the camera before being allowed to eat.
In the end, we hung out and bothered Buck for several hours.  Our kids ate up the information, and we all devoured delicious ice cream.  My Big Helper spent hours talking about and designing a “newspaper” around the information that she learned from Buck that morning.
Making the drive to Lumpy’s definitely proved to be worth it to us.  Buck encouraged and inspired our kids just as his ice cream did to our taste buds.  
Guess we’ll just have to go back – and I can’t wait to see what new flavors will be on the menu then!

Field Work Friday – Korea

This week we had a special guest – a friend of mine who has taken two trips to Korea.

She gave us the scoop about Korean culture.

This is the Korean flag.  Korea is a republic whose government is set up much like ours.  The outfit on the right is a traditional young boy’s outfit, the kind that is now worn for special occasions.  The rest of the time, Koreans wear clothes much like us.

Korean money is fancier than ours and is called the wan.  It is quite pretty – and 1000 wan is approximately equivalent to one dollar.

We saw a picture of a gas station, and the price of gas was shocking – over 33,000 wan per unit!  And we thought we paid a lot for gas!

The coins are fractions of the wan – so the top one is about half a dollar, and they decrease in value fractionally with each coin going down the column.

These are wedding ducks, a gift traditionally given to a newly married couple.  They are displayed inside the home, and each duck represents part of the couple – I think the one on the right is the groom?

When the ducks are positioned facing each other, as they are in the picture above, then the couple has a happy relationship.  When the ducks are positioned facing away from each other, then things are not so happy.  I wouldn’t want to come home and find that my husband’s duck had turned away from me – but maybe it makes it easier to figure out problems somehow!

These are traditional handmade theater masks in miniature – not meant for wearing.  Theatrical productions in traditional costumes with real masks remain very popular.

Pottery and art is very popular.  We looked at this fancy vase – another traditional wedding gift – and a jewelry box that was inlaid with mother-of-pearl.  It must take a long time to learn how to master these trades!

My friend also brought an album with pictures of her travels to Korea.  My Little Man was fascinated with pictures of the ancient palaces.  The artwork on the walls and ceilings is incredible!  The palace guards also made quite a sight in their traditional red dress.

The pictures of traditional furniture were neat, too.  Many people – even in restaurants – still eat at low tables while sitting on the floor, and bedding is often stored in special chambers during the daytime – no ‘beds’ as we know them used.

There were also pictures of street evangelists.  About 1/4 of all Koreans are Christian, and they take their mission to spread the Gospel very seriously.  The largest Christian church in the world is in Seoul, the capital.  Of the remaining Koreans, about half are undeclared, and the other quarter are Buddhists.

She then broke out a box full of wooden blocks with Korean letters, words, and pictures on them.  She found the letters My Little Man needed to spell his name, and with blank paper and crayons we practiced writing the Korean letters (found in the bottom left hand corner of the above blocks).

After coloring a picture of the flag and choosing a blank map to bring home, our time in Korea ended.

As My Big Helper climbed in the car after school, My Little Man started yelling, “Guess what we did today?  We learned about K’rea!  And the people are very nice there and their things are BEAUTIFUL!”

Enough said.  🙂

Field Work Friday – The Culture of India

This week we continued our world tour with a stop in India.  A local pastor, Philip Chryst, of Warren’s Grove UMC, came to share with us about his experiences in India as a missionary.
Reverend Chryst brought along this bamboo painting to use as a springboard.  He showed the children the style of artwork and pointed out that it was painted on thin strips of bamboo instead of the paper or canvas we might commonly use.
Reverend Chryst shared stories of hiking in remote jungles and being without interpreters.  He also told us about what daily life was like for people living in rural India.  
We learned about the dung huts that he stayed in for most of his visit, and how the dung was ‘refreshed’ for special guests, as the missionaries were considered to be.  He shared that the smell was once so strong that they dragged their beds outside and slept under the stars that night.
At the kids’ request, he told us about the foods he ate most often there – about rice and beans, about using a type of flat bread as a fork, and about the popularity of goat meat and the rarity of beef.  He explained that curry is a very popular spice, and that chai tea is prepared with cream and sugar in it – it’s not possible to ever have a cup of ‘plain’ tea.
Pastor Chryst showed us that many many more Indians are Christian than are commonly believed to be, but there are also many Hindus throughout India.  His stories challenged my popular beliefs of this country – and the children were wide-eyed at the stories of tigers, wild and free, and goat for dinner.
Every once in a while, it’s good to shake up our ideas and wrap our brains around something new.
Is there anyone in your community who has been someplace ‘exotic?’ How do you teach your children about other cultures?

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!