Field Work Friday: Visiting the Nina & the Pinta

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Did you know that there are reproductions of historic ships sailing around the world?

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I didn’t, until recently, but when we found out, my DH arranged to take us to a nearby port city to see the Nina and the Pinta, two of the three ships sailing with Christopher Columbus on his famous voyage in 1492.

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The ships were at the Wilmington, NC, waterfront, and after purchasing tickets, we were permitted through the gates to board the ships.

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Once on board, we could explore the main gate.  There were signs everywhere, telling us facts about the ship and other equipment on board.  There were volunteers hanging around, ready to answer questions or talk with anyone willing.  This woman had been on board since February and was making jewelry while she waited for a question.  When my Big Helper saw what she was working on, they struck up a conversation, and the volunteer ended up asking my Big Helper for help with an earring.  My Big Helper loved that!

Tall Ships

The ships are fascinating, even though you can’t go belowdecks.  Since the ships are manned by volunteers, and each ship features a modern kitchen, the bottom of the ships are off limits. Being able to see the size of the ships, the gigantic proportions of the anchor, and the thickness of the ropes really makes one admire the bravery of the men sailing with Columbus.

There are tall ships sailing all over the world.  if you have the opportunity to see one, be sure to check it out! 

Learn more about the Nina and the Pinta with these great resources!

 

Living History: The Roaring ’20s

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It was the era of gangsters, Prohibition, and all that glitters.  It’s known as the Roaring ‘20s, and our living history club brought the era back to life.  We love holding this special events each semester, and this one was definitely the glitziest.

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The day kicked off with a photography session, as the dressed-up students were dressed to the nines as flappers and mobsters.  After that, they introduced themselves, as each student had studied a particular person from history and had come dressed as that person.

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Next, My Big Helper shared some popular slang of the time and asked the students to incorporate as many of these terms as possible into their conversations throughout the day.

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My Little Man explained the history of a Hamilton Beach fruit juicer that was patented during the 1920s.  The particular machine in question used to reside in a local pharmacy, and following his speech, he  demonstrated how to make the perfect fresh lemonade.  While lemonades were made for each student, another mom taught the students how to play table games.18056996_10212172736616620_7481163634049384896_n

Another mom taught the students about the characteristics of the art deco style.  Each student then chose a quote from a celebrity of the era and created their own unique art piece with art deco-inspired fonts and colors.

Living History

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A dad shared the silent movie A Trip to the Moon.  Following the show, the students lined up to feast from a variety of foods popular in this decade.  With the advent of refrigerated transportation and the popularity of parties, many new foods came onto the scene, including peanut butter cups, chow mein, Coca-Cola, Crush, cheeseballs, Jell-O parfaits, and tuna wraps.

 Living History

After lunch, the students returned to the year 2017, concluding that the Roaring ‘20s might be fun to visit, but that they wouldn’t want to live there.

If you’re studying this era, you might also want to check out my post about our book club event for Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter.

Some resources that we loved for studying the ’20s are:

 

 

Living History

Field Work Friday – Berry Hill Resort

It’s probably the last place you’d expect to find a bunch of kids – but the Berry Hill Resort and Conference Center is exactly where we went.Berry Hill

Berry Hill was part of a land grant from the British Crown decades before the American Revolution.  The estate was protected from destruction during wartime by the owner’s wealth and political clout and has a long and colorful history.

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Berry Hill has it’s own historian and tour guide, and this retired teacher gives a great tour.  He took us through the mansion, room by room, telling funny stories and sharing how the building has changed over time.

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The main hall is just as impressive as the outside of the mansion.  With twin staircases, this room highlights the original mistress’s favorite aspect of the building:  symmetry.  The downstairs also features marble baseboards from the same quarry as Michelangelo’s David.

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Our guide pointed out more of the unique symmetrical elements around the building – including extra doors that lead only to the wall.  Everyone was amused by that!

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Twenty years ago, the estate was purchased by a French corporation who renovated it extensively.  This beautiful pool was one of their additions!

After visiting the mansion, the pool, and the new on-site hotel, we ate lunch in Darby’s Tavern.  Situated in the old kitchen, we feasted on gourmet sandwiches and salads and played in the beautiful, spring sunshine.

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After lunch, we headed off to explore more of the grounds.  Now encompassing 650 acres, there are many trails leading to historic sites, and we made great use of them.

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We found these old stone remnants near a creek, and we had fun poking around, trying to see if we can figure out how it looked originally.

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The kids also had fun playing near the creek and catching frogs.  My Little Man couldn’t resist this one!

Berry Hill Resort and Conference Center is a beautiful place.  We enjoyed learning about its varied past, but this National Historic Landmark has a bright future.  Now often used for weddings, parties, and conferences, it would make a wonderful venue for any occasion. Should you visit southern Virginia, be sure to check it out.

Interviewing Author Chris Grabenstein

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It started with the happiest of emails.  Not the fake “you’ve-won-a-million-dollars” type, but the a real from-the-personal-assistant “Congratulations!  You’ve won!” type.  In this instance, though, the prize was a thirty-minute interview with Chris Grabenstein for my students.

It would be exciting to interview any children’s author.  We love books and love reading, so being able to ‘get inside their heads’ is awesome in and of itself.  We’ve met Chris Grabenstein, however, and know that he’s not only a gifted and creative author, but also an incredibly kind man.  We knew this would be a fantastic opportunity.

Chris Grabenstein

We invited all of our book club kids, took interview questions from far-away friends, and planned our room set-up.  This was a big deal, since we don’t have access to projectors, big screens, or serious microphone power.   Because the interview would happen via Skype, I wanted everyone to be able to see the laptop screen as much as possible.  To personalize the interview and keep questions clear and easy to hear, Mr. Grabenstein requested that the question-asker sit directly in front of the laptop – so we needed to be able to move around, too.

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We figured it out, and on the day of the interview, the kids showed up with papers full of questions and nervous giggles erupting frequently.  We talked about the time delay that happens when talking with Skype, about the importance of being polite, about listening to other people’s questions so we don’t repeat a lot, etc., and then it was time.

Skype didn’t connect at first, and then my phone rang:  it was Mr. Grabenstein, checking in for the interview!  We were soon able to make the Skype connection – but how wonderful is it that he would go that extra mile?

Mr. Grabenstein talked with us for a moment, and then let us jump right in with questions.  He continued that for the full half hour.  Several of the questions asked could have been answered with very short answers, but he told funny stories for each, sharing his history, giving lots of information, and making the asker feel important with each one.

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I’m sure that many of the questions we asked are the same questions that he fields all the time, but what impressed me most about his answers was that he formatted them just like his books:  to be funny stories with great themes and truths in each one. 

When a student asked about his writing inspiration, he didn’t get just an answer, but a mini writing lesson in comic form.  When a student asked whether he always wanted to write, we heard about his professional journey, including his motivation, the hard work he put in, and the education he has that played a role.

I especially loved his writing-inspiration answer, and it made an impression on  my kids, too.  In fact, as we walked through the NC Museum of Art yesterday, I heard one of them muttering, “What if …. we were here, alone, at night, and ….”

Chris Grabenstein’s enthusiasm for writing has been a boost for my kids’ confidence in themselves as writers and as creative people.  We’re seeing story possibilities everywhere now, and I love how much happier they are to write.

Chalk up another win for Chris Grabenstein.

We’re big Grabenstein fans around here.  To read more about our other interactions, check out these posts:

These are our favorite Grabenstein books:

To find Grabenstein curriculum, including unit studies, party printables, recipes, and STEM activities, visit my TpT store here.

Field Work Friday: Route 11 Potato Chips

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Sometimes it’s possible to stumble onto great educational experiences without really trying, and that’s what happened when we stopped in at the Route 11 Potato Chip Factory.

The Route 11 Potato Chip Company started out on its namesake road, but it has since moved to a newer, bigger location just off Interstate 81 in Mount Jackson, Virginia.  The warehouse is the home to the entire company:  offices, gift shop, and factory itself.

Route 11 welcomes visitors, but what makes the site really unique are the windows built into the walls of the gift shop.  From that vantage point, you can look into nearly every part of the factory and see how the chips are made.  On the day that we stopped in, the kind woman at the counter came out and explained the process to us.  We learned about how the potatoes are purchased from individual farmers across the Eastern seaboard and how they’re turned into yummy potato chips. 

The process is fascinating, and by moving from window to window you can see almost everything (the potatoes are washed and peeled in a separate room).  By moving to a second-floor balcony, you can see into the seasoning room, where we watched two workers salting a batch of lightly-salted chips and turning them by hand. 

The machinery that fries, flips, drains, and bags the chips were was fun to watch.  Conveyor belts move the chips throughout the factory in batches, and although they start with 100 pounds of potatoes, 75 pounds of water cooks out!

The gift shop area includes a sampling table, where you can try many of Route 11‘s unique flavors.  My Little Man loved that part the best!  My Big Helper spent her time in conversation with our tour guide and admiring the t-shirts, jewelry, and other items on display in the shop.

Route 11 employs sustainable business practices, and this was especially interesting to us after touring TS Designs last week.  They, too, recycle their frying oil.  We were particularly excited about the picked-out chips, though.  After frying, the chips are sent along a conveyor belt, where a worker inspects the quality of them all.  If chips are found that are slightly under- or over-cooked, they’re tossed into a bucket.  A nearly farmer comes by at the end of the day and collects those chips, and feeds them to his cows.  I never knew that cows like potato chips!

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If you’re ever driving through that section of Virginia, stop in and check out Route 11.

If Route 11 isn’t available in your area, you can try them out here:

 

Field Trip Friday: TS Designs Makes Revolutionary T-Shirts

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My husband has been fascinated with screen printing for years, and that’s why I was so excited to find that TS Designs would be open to having us come and tour their facility.

We soon learned more than we ever expected.

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Eric Michel, Chief of Tech and Logistics, kicked off our tour with a history of the company.  TS Designs started out as a standard screen-printing company back in the late 70s, and business was strong as they printed shirts for companies like Gap and Nike.  When these major companies began taking their business overseas after NAFTA, president Eric Henry knew he had to make changes.  He and fellow founder Tom Sineath changed their focus to what they call the 3 Ps:  People, the Planet, and Profit.  With this as their motto, they jumped on board the green movement.

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That’s when the Cotton of the Carolinas line was born. This new line features cotton from local farmers, and it’s processed into shirts locally, too.   Eric passed around samples of the cotton at each stage of the process so the kids could feel and examine it.  There are more steps than I had imagined!

This is a really fascinating process, and TS Designs works with experts.  Want to know more? Watch this clip of their UNC TV Special here.

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Now printing for a smaller customer base, TS Designs no longer needed to print hundreds of thousands of shirts at a time.  Instead, they needed to be able to keep a smaller amount of inventory on hand.  Since most screen printers print on the color of the shirt desired, this caused a problem, as TS Designs didn’t want to keep shirts in every color in storage.  Instead, they developed a new technology that would allow them to dye the shirts after being printed.  Even now, they’re the only printers they know of using this REHANCE technology.

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Then we were on the move:  out onto the factory floor, where we learned about how the giant screen printing presses operate.  In full production mode, each one takes several people to operate and can print a shirt every six seconds.  Wow!

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The kids were full of questions about the printing presses, the screens, and the large drying machines we saw on the floor.  Who knew screen printing required so much equipment?

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After that social media queen Jen Busfield took over.  She taught us about the variety of ways that TS Designs employs to keep their company sustainably minded. TS Designs not only prints t-shirts that are completely local, but they use their property to benefit the community in many ways.  They’re a drop-off station for fuel recycling, and they have a garden manned by the staff, too.  Outside of the garden area is a bench that becomes the home for several bee hives come warm weather, and they’re tended by local beekeepers.  The honey they share with TS Designs is then enjoyed by the employees.  While the staff has enjoyed fresh eggs from chickens kept on the property in the past, a new local law made the hens relocate, but they have hopes of returning soon.  They even have solar panels on the roof and an outside patio area for staff!  It is obvious that TS Designs is working hard to be friendly not only to their customers and to their employees, but also to the planet as a whole.

I’ve never heard of a business diversifying in so many ways to be friendly to their environment.  TS Designs might have started making these changes to stay afloat many years ago, but it’s obvious that it’s become a heart decision since that time, and we learned many things from them.  Seeing a business care about its employees and environment in such concrete ways was refreshing. 

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Of course, at the very end of our tour, we headed to the Breakroom Boutique, where TS Designs sells extras and overruns for $5 each.  We were able to find some great shirts – some designed by Mindful Supply, which are all super cute, and all featuring the REHANCE technology that makes even the printed area soft and pliable.  This company is definitely doing good, and we’ll be hitting up this shop again.

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Where have you field-tripped to learn something new?

While TS Designs is definitely the way to go to print shirts for your youth group, business, or special event, you can learn more about small-batch printing at home!  Check out these resources:

 

 

Book Clubbing in the Wild West: Climbing Mountains

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I love being able to make hands-on plans for book club.  I love that we’re not only about books and discussion but about really getting into the books with all of our senses.  That’s why I was so excited for the kids to read Missing on Superstition Mountain by Elise Broach this month, and just like Henry and his friends, we climbed a mountain.

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On a warm Saturday morning, we met at Hanging Rock State Park in Danbury, North Carolina for a mountain adventure.  After quickly discussing the role of the dangerous Superstition Mountain to Henry, we set off.

Although our group set a brisk pace at the beginning, it wasn’t long before we slowed down considerably.  While the park service ranks the main Hanging Rock trail as a moderate one, the first half is very steep, and the second half requires climbing up rough, rustic rock steps. 

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We paused for a picture before heading up those steps.  Where were we going, exactly?

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We were going to the top of this! 

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We stopped along the way to play in some neat rock formations.  The kids loved climbing into fissures, small craggy areas, and mini caves, then posing for pictures everywhere they went.  It was fun to see them enjoying it so much.

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After lots more climbing, we made it to the top!  We stopped for a picture before scattering to the far corners of the large rock on top of the mountain.

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So where were we, really?  My husband and My Big Helper ventured out onto Hanging Rock itself, but it was so crowded that they didn’t stay long.  They said that it felt too much as if a random elbow-bump could knock one off.  Given that, they didn’t hang around.  There were other places that were just as pretty ….

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Like these huge boulders just around the corner from Hanging Rock itself.  Even though we were far away from the edge, this made My Little Man nervous, and he went back to the mountain as soon as we were done.  We all enjoyed snacking on the rock and enjoying the views, though.

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Though the cliff side of the rocks were not his favorite thing, My Little Man loved the underside of the upper rocks.  How strong would one have to be to hold this one up?

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Climbing the mountain was a major adventure.  It was difficult and exhausting, with a few banged knees and racing pulses.  We were tempted to quit and worried about the danger from the uneven ground, 2500-foot drop, and the crowds at the top.  We realized, though, like Henry, that blazing a new trail was fun.  It made us feel strong.  That conquering the mountain made us more observant of the nature around us and the strength within our muscles. 

If you’ve never pitted yourself against a mountain, give it a try.  You might be surprised at what you’ll learn.

For more mountain-climbing resources, check out these:

 

 

Studying the Wild West: Going on a Trail Ride

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We’re studying the Wild West this semester, and it’s impossible to do so without noting the importance of the horse to this expansion.  From pioneers moving west to the Pony Express, stagecoaches, and cowboys, horses played a huge role in it all.  With that in mind, I scheduled a horse lesson and trail ride so that we could learn about horses firsthand.

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Our lesson took place at a nearby church camp that includes stables.  Chris Burtner, their equestrian director, met us on a beautiful fall morning and talked to the kids about some horse basics: anatomy, behaviors, and horse etiquette.  There’s a lot to learn!

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She also taught the kids about the frog, a soft, triangular part of the horse’s foot and how to care for it.  While she cleaned the frogs before the students came, an important aspect of horse care, she showed them how it’s done.

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Next, everyone learned about the tack necessary for basic riding: saddles, saddle pads, curry combs, bits, reins, and bridles.

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When they knew the basics, the students each retrieved a basket with the necessary tools for currying their horses.  Each was responsible for preparing his own horse to ride, and this gave them all time to bond with their animals.

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My Big Helper especially liked this part.  I think they all fell a little bit in love with their mounts during this part of the lesson.

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When there was no remaining dirt that might chafe the horse after being saddled, the kids were instructed individually about that process.  My Little Man was excited to learn each step of this process, and Burtner kindly walked him through it, checking behind him as he went.

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He was quite proud of his accomplishment!

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After everyone had curried, saddled, and mounted their horses, they headed out for a trail ride.  The forest was beautiful, and while several of the kids looked scared as they held the reins for the first time, they all returned with huge smiles on their faces.  Several asked immediately if they could head back out to the woods!

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Unfortunately, time didn’t allow another ride, and so the kids learned how to unsaddle their horses, as well.  They put away their tack and rubbed down the horses following their ride.

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Since this ride, I’ve heard the kids who attended ask for more lessons.  They loved it!

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I’ve heard more than that, though:  the kids have talked about the feel of the horse, the way it felt to ride so high from the ground, and about how it smelled and sounded.  They’re using proper vocabulary when talking about the horses and equipment, and I can’t wait to read the way that their experiences factor into their stories and ideas about the role of horses in the Wild West.

Have your children ever ridden a horse?

Check out these resources for more information about horses and the Wild West:

Horse Studies

Rolling Sculptures: Art Deco @ the NC Museum of Art

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My Little Man adores cars, so when I heard that the North Carolina Museum of Art was hosting a new exhibit of rolling sculptures featuring 14 art deco cars from the 1930s and 1940s, I knew we had to go.

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The exhibit opened on a Saturday morning, and we headed to the museum early to check out the car show happening in the parking lot that day.  I have absolutely no idea what sort of car this is, but I loved looking at the curvy lines of it.  It made me think of an old-fashioned Mickey Mouse car!

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That’s what I discovered about many of these – that while I don’t understand the ‘wow’ factor that car-minded people might get, the artistic quality of these vehicles when compared to modern-day ones was something I could relate to.

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Inside the exhibit, this was my son’s favorite.  He loved it – and while it looks small in the picture, it really wasn’t!  It reminded me of an antique VW bus.

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This Pierce Silver Arrow was really impressive.  I thought My Little Man would totally love it … and he was talking about them before we headed into the exhibit itself, ….

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but then he caught a glimpse of this one.  We couldn’t do anything else until we had thoroughly examined it.

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That’s where he spotted this Bugatti.  This is his favorite type of car, and the details were fascinating.  It was covered with obvious seams and rivets for the sheer beauty of the detail work!  I don’t suppose this Bugatti was ever an everyday sort of car, but you just don’t see these kinds of curves on our cars today.  While we know more about aerodynamics than in the ’30s, all models have very similar shapes.  The way that the rivets decorated the metal seams reminded me of the way that people use overstitching to decorate special shirts. 

My Little Man loved leading me to one vehicle after another, and I loved watching his excitement throughout the exhibit.  It’s definitely worth the exhibit fee.  If you’re anywhere near Raleigh, NC, in the next few months, go check it out.

Art Deco

To learn more about art deco cars, check out these resources:

 

Learning Leatherwork with Tandy Leather

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Education can be found everywhere, and I love finding new avenues to learn – that’s why I was so excited to take the kids to Tandy Leather in Raleigh for a leatherworking lesson.

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Little did I know just how kind and generous the store manager, Aubrin Rhem, would turn out to be.

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Rhem gave the kids large pieces of scrap leather to practice with, and the first step was to dampen the leather.  We took it outside and used spray bottles with water to prep it.

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Rhem taught everyone how to put their leather on stone slabs so that the metal stamps could leave clear, distinct impressions when pounded with mallets. 

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Then the students practiced for a long time, learning how much pressure to use and at what angle to get good marks.

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After stamping and staining their leather bracelets, Rhem gave the kids a tour of his shop.

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They were amazed at the variety of leather available.

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The same was true for this python skin!  Everyone loved touching it and seeing just how long it was.

After the stain dried, Rhem sealed the leather with sealant and the bracelets dried in the sun again.   

All told, we spent several hours at Tandy Leather, and I had no idea how much we would learn in that time.  My kids came home, chattering about all of the new things they wanted to make with leather next.  They were using new terms that they had learned that day and bouncing with excitement.

Aubrin Rhem was extremely kind and patient with our students, and Tandy Leather places a high emphasis on leatherwork education.  If there’s a Tandy Leather near you, check out their class schedule.  Working with leather is a relaxing, fun, and practical hobby.

Want to know more?  Check out these leather resources: