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.

Hanging Rock

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. 

Hanging Rock

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

Hanging Rock

We were going to the top of this! 

Hanging Rock

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.

Hanging Rock

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.

Hanging Rock

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 ….

Hanging Rock

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.

Hanging Rock

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?

Hanging Rock

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:

 

 

Touring Penn State University

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A few months ago we traveled to Pennsylvania to visit my grandmother, a natural-born teacher.  Although she was quite sick at the time, she sent us on several field trips while we were there – and one of them was to her alma mater, Penn State University.

 

PSU

 Penn State is a huge, land grant university, with the main campus located in State College, very close to where I grew up.  In fact, while Pennsylvania has only 500 institutions of higher learning, supposedly you’re never more than 30 minutes from a PSU campus.  Penn State is big – it’s football, it’s Blue and White, it’s food science and ag and 4-H and intense study.

PSU

The kids had never been there before, and since Penn State plays such a large role in the life of a central Pennsylvanian, it was exciting to take them there.

Our first stop was at Beaver Stadium, home of the Nittany Lions football team.  Of course, being early summer, no games were happening – but if there had been, the traffic would have prevented us getting in the proximity.  As it was, we parked nearby and walked around the stadium, admiring it’s sheer size.  We have yet to see a college football stadium that compares here in the south!

PSU

Our wandering took us to the Pattee and Paterno Library next.  In both middle and high school, I researched my history day projects in these libraries.  I spent hours looking for obscure information about Elizabeth Blackwell and the Massachusetts 54th in the stacks.  My Little Man was excited to see such a huge library and wanted to search for old books, but … we got there 20 minutes after it closed.  Summer hours – bummer.  We’ll definitely be headed inside when we’re in the area again.

PSU

Nana wanted us to see Old Main most of all.  The original building of Penn State University, it’s big, old, and very impressive. 

PSU

Penn State University is spread out all over State College, but one edge of campus faces College Avenue.  The other side of the street sports lots of shops and eateries.  We hit up the Student Book Store for magnets and t-shirts, and now we happily match in our blue and white.

PSU

The Allen Street Grill is a landmark in downtown State College.  I’ve always wanted to eat there and never have – maybe someday we’ll make that happen.

PSU

We found beautiful fountains and old clocks all over campus and had fun taking pictures with them.

PSU

Our last stop was our favorite:  Berkey Creamery.  It’s moved and expanded since I was last there, and the new set-up is wonderful.  Penn State’s ice cream program is world famous, and people like Ben & Jerry have gone there to learn the science and art of making ice cream.  They have the usual flavors like chocolate and vanilla, but there are variations on those, as well as specialty flavors like Peachey Paterno.

PSU

Servings come in only one size – enormous.  You can get any flavor in a cone or a cup, and they wisely ask you to pay at the beginning of the process – because you can’t manage your wallet while juggling all that ice cream.  It was absolutely delicious, and we all wanted to go back for seconds (but we refrained).

We visited Penn State on a cloudy, drizzly Saturday evening, and we made the most of every minute.  There are lots of other attractions in State College, though – there are shows at Roosevelt Auditorium, many sporting events, shopping, tours, wonderful restaurants, and PSU attractions like the deer farm, dairy farm, and many more.

If you’re ever near State College, head over to the Penn State campus.  You’ll find a beautiful area with lots to see and do.

Want to know more about what makes Penn State great?  Check out these resources:

 

Getting Colonial with Patrick Henry

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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:

 

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A Little R & R

“Favorite Flavors of Ireland” by Margaret Johnson

 

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Favorite Flavors of Ireland‘>Favorite Flavors of Ireland is a scenic foodie tour of this hypnotic island country.  The pictures are gorgeous, and there are stories to accompany them.  Many of the pages also include histories of the dishes and how they’ve evolved over time or are particularly relevant to a certain region.  I learned a lot just from reading the pages!

I never fully realized just how different the base foods of Ireland are from the ones that I eat every day in the Eastern part of the United States, either.  There were many, many ingredients that I either didn’t recognize or have never eaten.  Some I’ve heard of but are much ‘fancier’ than people typically eat in my native central Pennsylvania, despite our Irish heritage.  Being the case, I was a bit nervous to try a dish that was a complete unknown with all-new ingredients.

So I settled on shepherd’s pie for our first try.  I modified it a bit, of course, as I always do – I used hamburger since I didn’t have lamb and I left out a few herbs that I didn’t have on hand – but I used Irish butter and a luscious Irish cheese to blend with the potatoes.

My family was excited to see shepherd’s pie on the table when they arrived since we’ve eaten it out but rarely attempted to make it at home, but everyone thoroughly enjoyed it.  It disappeared from plates rapidly, and I can tell this is a recipe we’ll be making again and again.

I like the friendly way that Johnson explained her recipes.  It made the unfamiliar seem doable – easy, even.  That makes some of the other recipes in the book seem more approachable.  My Big Helper has already picked out several recipes that she wants to make, so I’m sure that we’ll be doing more Irish cooking in the days to come.

If you’re in the market for a solid Irish cookbook with a wide variety of food – or a great coffee table book that will share as much information as it will recipes – then Favorite Flavors of Ireland is the book for you.

I received a free copy of this book from Ambassador International in exchange for an honest review.

1 Easy Way to Teach about the American Southwest

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American Southwest

Recently my Little Man asked to read Elise Broach’s book Missing on Superstition Mountain.  I knew he would love it – it’s packed full of adventure, danger, and treasure hunting – but I hesitated.  This book is perfect for teaching about the American Southwest.  There are many, many threads that can be tugged to build deeper learning and critical thinking. 

 

So we made a deal:  he would wait to read the book until I had created some ‘stuff’ to go along with it, and then I would give him a week off from school to read the book and complete the ‘stuff.’  I’ve been hard at work creating a series of fun extension activities to accompany it ever since, and it’s DONE!  I’ve created a web-linked novel study that incorporates your typical vocabulary quizzes and creative writing assignments, but also has math, science, and history activities, too.  Many include writing or art projects.  All of it can be done individually or cooperatively.

How to Teach your Students about the American Southwest

Since it’s made and finished, I’d like to share it with youMissing on Superstition Mountain is a fantastic book that’s sure to excite any child about treasure hunting and solving mysteries.  Better yet, it’s based on the real history and legends of the Superstition Mountain Range in Arizona (and this study has more about that linked up for your convenience, too!).   It’s also the first book in a trilogy, and since the other two books are just as great as this one, novel studies will be coming soon for the other books in the series.

Missing on Superstition Mountain will make a great book club pick for upper-elementary or middle school book clubs.  Our boys’ club will be reading this story next fall, and I can’t wait to see what they think of it.

So don’t delay – go Missing on Superstition Mountain and catch gold fever yourself.

How do you keep your children excited about learning?

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Tell it to Me Tuesdays

Touring NC: Sliding Rock State ParkS

 

While on our trip to the mountains a few weeks ago, we decided it was important to explore the mountains.  To find out what makes North Carolina unique.

 

Touring NC Visiting Sliding Rock State Park

 

Sliding Rock State Park seemed like the perfect example.

Sliding Rock itself is a natural waterslide deep in the mountains.  It’s in a creekbed and is 60 feet long with a water temperature of 40 degrees.  A metal handrail has been installed on one side of the creek, and with lifeguards watching, people walk up the rock and slide down.

Touring NC:  Visiting Sliding Rock State Park @  A Nest in the Rocks

One side of the rock slides quickly, while people on the other side go slowly. Both kids decided to stick with the slower side, and they absolutely loved it.

Touring NC:  Visiting Sliding Rock State Park @  A Nest in the Rocks

At the end of the slide, riders are dumped into a seven-foot deep section of the creek. 

Touring NC:  Visiting Sliding Rock State Park @  A Nest in the Rocks

Despite the depth and the chill, these two spent hours climbing the rock and sliding down – over and over again!

Touring NC:  Visiting Sliding Rock State Park @  A Nest in the Rocks

Doesn’t it make you want to head to the mountains?

 

History in Action: Gem Mining in NC

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 We’ve been studying North Carolina – our home state – this year in school, and I was shocked to learn that this state was the site of our nation’s first gold rush back in the early 1800s!  That opened my eyes to the long history of mining that this state has – which thrilled My Little Man, since he’s been wanting to go gem mining for years.

We decided to visit Emerald Village in Little Switzerland, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and near Mount Mitchell.

History in Action: NC Gem Mining @ A Nest in the Rocks

Emerald Village had more to offer than most mining sites.  For one thing, there were a total of 12 working mines on the property at one point in history, one of which was the source of the main ingredient for Bon Ami soap.  Another was its offerings.  Besides mining, you could also tour an actual mine, shop, and visit 13 stories of historical displays on site.  We spent hours hanging out here!

History in Action: NC Gem Mining @ A Nest in the Rocks

The sheer beauty of the place was impressive.  The mountains featured huge rock faces everywhere you turned, and you could walk right up to the entrance of this mine.  This was the backdrop of the actual gem mining operation, which made it even more exciting.

History in Action: NC Gem Mining @ A Nest in the Rocks

My Little Man was so excited to be on the property of actual gem mines that he kept his eyes to the ground everywhere we went.  He was constantly stopping abruptly to snatch up a rock and shout, “I found something!”  Considering his study of rock books over the past few years, I’m sure he’s right about some of them.

History in Action: NC Gem Mining @ A Nest in the Rocks

After visiting some of the other attractions, we got down to the business of mining.  You can choose to pan for gold or go gem mining, but while you’re guaranteed to find gems in every bucket, there’s no such guarantee for the gold.  (There are also more rustic options available, but we stuck with the simplicity.)  We chose to go the gem route, although My Little Man wouldn’t mind trying his hand at gold mining someday.

History in Action: NC Gem Mining @ A Nest in the Rocks

After purchasing a large bucket of dirt and gems (all of this material came from the Emerald Village property), we were directed to the sluices just outside the mine entrance in the picture above.  We each grabbed a sieve and began.  The men working the counter directed us to let anything white or gray go down the sluice, but to keep anything of color.  That was harder than it sounded, but surprisingly fun.

History in Action: NC Gem Mining @ A Nest in the Rocks

We found mostly smallish gems, but several were much larger, and we’re eagerly polishing our favorites.  We can’t wait to see what they’ll look like when they’re cleaned up.

History in Action: NC Gem Mining @ A Nest in the Rocks

Gem mining was really fun!  We all want to do this again, and we left with big bags of colorful gems.

History in Action: NC Gem Mining @ A Nest in the Rocks

The site of the sluices just outside the mine entrance.

History in Action: NC Gem Mining @ A Nest in the Rocks

After mining – because honestly, none of us could wait any longer to try that – we headed to the mine for our tour.  It began off the gift shop in a building full of historical displays about the history of mining at Emerald Village and the Bon Ami mine.  There was even a video to teach you about the mining life.

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From there we ventured out to the mine – shown here behind the kids.

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It was not what I was expecting; there were no dark tunnels through the mountainside, but it was well done.  The tour was self-guided, and when you purchase tickets you get a booklet with numbered descriptions.  Each of the displays throughout the mine have numbers to match these, and so you can walk around and read about everything at your own pace.  There even museum-type displays and a phosphorescent display in the mine itself.

History in Action: NC Gem Mining @ A Nest in the Rocks

We had a great time learning more about North Carolina mining at Emerald Village, and the weather was absolutely perfect for it.  If you’re ever in the area, this is definitely a fun place to check out.

Have you ever been gem mining?

Want to know more about North Carolina and the history of mining?  Check out these books:

 

Field Work Friday – Exploring Mt. Mitchell

 This past school year we studied our home state of North Carolina.  We learned about the three regions of the state – the coast, the Piedmont,  and the mountains -and we studied the pre-colonial history of North Carolina, too. (Find out more about our trips to Shackleford Island, pirate book club plans, and pirate history.

Exploring Mt. Mitchell @ A Nest in the Rocks

Our kids have seen mountains before, but never in North Carolina.  We decided to right that wrong and headed west.

We spent part of the day driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping at scenic overlooks and admiring the views.  The best views by far, though, were at Mt. Mitchell.

Field Work Friday - Exploring Mt. Mitchell @  A Nest in the Rocks

Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi.  It’s located in a state park off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and entrance is free.  You can drive nearly to the very top.

Field Work Friday - Exploring Mt. Mitchell @  A Nest in the Rocks

From the parking lot, you walk past a small concession stand, gift shop, and museum.  A paved path leads you to the very peak.

Field Work Friday - Exploring Mt. Mitchell @  A Nest in the Rocks

The signs at the very top made for great pictures.  There was also a fenced platform with beautiful 360-degree views of the surrounding area.

Field Work Friday - Exploring Mt. Mitchell @  A Nest in the Rocks

Underneath the platform was the tomb of Dr. Mitchell, a long-ago scientist for whom the mountain is named.

Field Work Friday - Exploring Mt. Mitchell @  A Nest in the Rocks

My Little Man was excited to explore all of that.

Field Work Friday - Exploring Mt. Mitchell @  A Nest in the Rocks

Exploring the area around the peak itself, though, was even more exciting.  Do you see just how blue that sky is?

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Branching off the path to the peak was a trail that meandered through the woods.  We happily followed it for about a mile. The trail was beautiful – full of ferns, fallen trees, boulders, and steep drop-offs, with a chipped path that made for easy walking.  Although the temperatures were topping 100 degrees that afternoon at home, it was a beautiful 72 degrees on top of Mt. Mitchell.  That’s my kind of weather!

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We loved our time at Mt. Mitchell, and we all want to go back.  If you’re never been to the North Carolina mountains, Mt. Mitchell should be on your must-see list!

Where is your favorite place to visit?

Studying France: Baking Bread

One of the kids’ very favorite parts of studying France is the food, and bread tops that list.  They’ve been enjoying French baguettes, sticks, and croissants, and so we decided that it was time to try baking our own French bread.

Studying France Baking Bread  A Nest in the Rocks

We chose this recipe.   It’s simple and quick with clean ingredients. 

Studying France:  Baking Bread @ A Nest in the Rocks

The kids made the bread from start to scratch on their own.  They mixed, timed, shaped, rolled, and baked it by themselves.

Studying France:  Baking Bread @ A Nest in the Rocks

They were SO proud of their bread!

Studying France:  Baking Bread @ A Nest in the Rocks

My Little Man even did the dishes afterwards.  What could be better?

What can your kids cook by themselves?

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Hip Homeschool Moms

Studying France: Building the Eiffel Tower

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 What do you think of when you think of Paris?  For me, it’s the Eiffel Tower.  There are many historic, exciting landmarks in this beautiful city, but the Eiffel Tower has to be one of the most iconic, and so we had to build our own version during our study of France.

DSCN1035Studying France:  Building the Eiffel Tower @ A Nest in the Rocks

We used sugar wafer cookies.  I bought two big packages of chocolate ones and a smaller package of vanilla, and we arranged ourselves into teams.  I set a timer for 30 minutes, and with a fair share of cookies each, we attempted to make our towers.

This is a very simple project, but it can have great educational lessons.  We studied the shape, construction, and history of the tower, and those lessons came out during this activity.  Then, when the time came, we used peanut butter as glue to hold the cookies together.  Just plan out how you want to stack the cookies to get your chosen shape, and carefully spread peanut butter where the joint will be. 

DSCN1035Studying France:  Building the Eiffel Tower @ A Nest in the Rocks

This project just lit My Big Helper up.  She was all over it!  We had spent the day learning about the Eiffel Tower, and she excitedly tried to be true to the actual structure – counting landings, legs, etc, to make a recognizable representation.  She even reported that she knew why I chose these cookies: because they already had a cross-hatch design stamped on them that resembled the lacy ironwork of the actual tower!

DSCN1035Studying France:  Building the Eiffel Tower @ A Nest in the Rocks

My Big Helper’s finished tower looked like this.  She is VERY proud of her tower!  Although … she won’t mind eating it, either. 

Studying the Eiffel Tower?  Check out these great resources!