This Month's Featured Resources...

Revolutionary WarScrap Crafting Lego History Latin Calendar

Thursday, August 28

Milk Cow Blues (Aerosmith)

Just across the highway in Thorp, Wisconsin, lies Holland's Family Cheese, a cheese factory that makes gouda cheese.   After being in the car for so long, we wanted to stick close to the hotel and do a lot of walking today!  We hopped over there and hit the afternoon cheese-making tour. 
These big cheese wheels weigh forty pounds each!!!  See that window behind my son?  Every yellow blip is a wheel of cheese that is curing.  That's a LOT of cheese!
We started in the milking area, of course.  We had a chance to learn about traditional versus modern techniques, and to see how the machines worked.  We watched the milk flow from cow, through the pipes, all the way to the first processing room. 
The factory milks 350 cows, three times each day.  Can you imagine trying to do that the old-fashioned way?  The boys weren't thinking it was a good idea...
After leaving the milking area, we donned cute little booties and headed down to the barns, to meet our new bovine friends.  First stop?  This little yet-to-be-named guy that was born overnight.  He still had his sea legs, and was having trouble coming to the gate.  So adorable!
Row after row of cattle greeted us.  Some were friendly, a few were neurotic...just like humans, each cow had her own personality.  (I say 'her' because the factory only keeps the females.  Calves are sent to a separate facility, and bulls are sent to another one.)  We enjoyed reading the names off of their ear tags....Doris, Vera, and Stella were particularly friendly!
Exiting the barns, we cleaned up a bit and headed into the processing area.  Here, we learned about the beginning stages of making cheese.  (Watch the Sesame Street video below for full details.)  We saw them brining the cheese, and watched as they hand-painted the yellow coating onto each wheel. 
Since the facility uses raw milk, it must cure for at least sixty days before they can sell it.  They have several different varieties to choose from, but each one is not always available due to the curing schedule.  As the final stop on our tour, we sampled twenty different varieties of gouda.  Our food connoisseur liked this part of the visit best!
When you can no longer eat another bite of cheese, head out back to the jumping pillow and work off some of those calories.  We had nowhere else to be today, and this was a great outlet for excess energy, so the kids jumped a good, long while.  Think we could call that today's P.E....?
Cheese-Making resources for children :
Sesame Street classic - How Cheese is Made

Cheese-Making resources for adults :
The local cheese-maker wins BEST CHEESE in AMERICA!

Wednesday, August 27

Spam (Monty Python)

Did you know that there is an entire museum dedicated solely to SPAM?  Oh yes, there is!  We happened upon this jewel of Americana as we made our way up the road to Wisconsin.  Being in desperate need of a stretch break, we hopped out and took a quick tour.
Do you see our happy faces at being out of the car, if even for only half an hour?  It was a sixteen-hour drive, and the company gave us one day to make it!!!  Lord-a-mercy.
At the SPAM museum, you can learn the history of Hormel Foods, manufacturing processes, and meat preservation techniques all in the same room.  Also, there is a heavy focus on the Depression and World War II years, as SPAM was provided to troops and citizens of war-torn Europe.
Personally, I liked the old radio station that played Burns & Allen shows on a continuous loop, and would have been quite happy to sit a spell and listen!  George & Gracie's late 1930's shows were sponsored by SPAM.  As you make your way through the museum, "Spambassadors" are wandering around handing out "spamples" of their products.
After going through the museum, you can try your hand at SPAM Jeopardy, view Monty Python's Spam-a-lot, and visit the gift store.  Two of us aren't put off by highly processed, potted meats, so a sampler pack was purchased.  They make 44,000 cans each hour, so there's more than plenty from which to choose!
Have you ever wondered what 4,000 cans of SPAM looked like?  (C'mon....I know you have...)  When I asked if Hormel has ever considered making a vegetarian SPAM, he said, "Some people do ask that question.  I tell them it's un-American."
All in all, it was a great, quick stopover.  We wouldn't have made a special trip to Minnesota just to see it, but it was worth the stop.  Did I mention that the museum has free admission???  Ready to make the trip yourself?  Here is some information about going...

SPAM Museum trip : 

Saturday, August 16

Mambo Italiano (Rosemary Clooney)

I have a confession to make : I hate tomatoes.  Ketchup, tomato sauce, tomato soup - those are acceptable, but not straight tomatoes.  However, our garden did not get the memo, and it produces about four times more tomatoes than anything else.  They're coming in quickly, and it'd be a shame to let this great homegrown food go to waste...
So here is last night's pick.  My bicycle basket was so full that the bike tipped over!!  The boys got everything washed and prepped for preservation.  It's too humid this week for canning - so we're going to pull out the dehydrator...
After getting everything washed, dried, and prepped, I sent the boys out with leftover pieces to add to our compost pile.  If you don't have your own little bucket for compost, you're missing out on an opportunity to create rich, nourishing soil for free.  Rather than toss that leftover produce into the trash, use it to generate humus for next year's garden.  For more information on this, allow me to recommend the free unit and book Magic School Bus: The Giant Germ .
We had so MANY trays of tomatoes, that I had to climb up on the stool to continue working!!  After getting the tomatoes laid out for "sun" drying, I sprinkled a combination of herbs on top.  Don't use too much...after they've dried, a small amount of herbs packs a big punch!
We had two extra trays, and some mangoes that needed to be dealt with, so I went ahead and dried them.  Also, we cut huge handfuls of mint and basil from the herb garden to dry.  Those will be used for cooking and making tea.
The kitchen was already a mess, and we were having sweet-tooth cravings, so the kids got creative in the kitchen.  We took cocoa krispies and some marshmallows that were leftover from making s'mores to make chocolate krispie treats.  My oldest got the idea to add mint extract (half a bottle...but who's keeping track here?) to make them "super-minty."  They were!  BUT, they were delicious.  It was like having a crunchy peppermint pattie - I highly recommend making these!  Sad to say, the pan did not last very long with all of us picking at it...
The next day, we took all of the trays off the dehydrator and had a gallon of sun-dried tomatoes, a jar of mangoes, bags full of mint and basil, and a little bit of peppermint-patty treats left.
We have also been experimenting with Kool-Aid for the kids.  This idea came from the book The Art of Fermentation, and turned out pretty well.  We soaked raspberries in water with a cup of honey, and left it sitting out for three days.  Then we strained the raspberries and put it in the fridge to stop / slow fermentation.  I put it into the regular Kool-Aid pitcher to keep them from whining about something new...and they seem to like it!
Now I have a bunch of onions....but those preserve fairly well in a cool, dry place!

Referenced in this post :

Thursday, August 14

Strange Attraction (Cure)

If you do any amount of travelling, then you know how important an accurate map and compass are.  This week, we studied the history and applications of magnetism to maps & globes...including latitudes / longitudes and a funny Cub Scout movie about reading a compass.
We started out with a lapbook on the basics of maps and globes.  This was a great opportunity to continue working on continents and oceans with the youngest.  My oldest fashioned his own globe out of a styrofoam ball that we found laying around and two toothpicks.
We read the Magic School Bus : Amazing Magnetism and completed an accompanying unit (free!).  The boys built their own compass using the same methods from as Miss Frizzle.  We also used the Young Scientist Series : Magnetism kit.
For our field trip, we took a trip to the zoo to test our map skills.  Not once (including this trip) have we visited the zoo without getting lost!  While we were there, we stopped in to see the baby rhino that was just born.  (Everybody say "awwwwwww.")
We learned about how magnetism helps animals, such as butterflies, with their migratory paths.  And we finally got to see the chameleon at the herpetology house.  While in the herpetology house, we brushed up on our knowledge of local (and venomous) snakes.
The front of the zoo has an enormous world map.  The boys were challenged to find someplace they had recently visited, and go stand on it.  One is at the Great Lakes, while the other is by New York City.
We enjoyed a nice little hike as we attempted to find our way out of the maze that they call the's always an adventure!
We walked next door to the Science Museum to take this adventure into cooler, and less humid, temperatures.  At the entrance, we found an extra-large globe, and enjoyed pointing out where different family members live.  See the world's largest globe in Maine!
We talked about different types of maps, as well.  Here is a cute map of the solar system and an astronomical chart of the stars during different seasons.
In the hands-on section, we learned about magnetic fields, how magnetism and electricity are related, and how magnetism affects gravitational pull.
We have been studying Leonardo da Vinci for history, and reading the Magic Treehouse : Monday with a Mad Genius .  In the book (spoiler alert), Leonardo's secret to happiness is his perpetual curiosity.  As we had just completed the book, I found this wall mural to be relevant and fascinating.
Back at home, we created maps of the zoo and learned about animal classification.  There were some great sections in the animal classification unit about how the earth's magnetic pull affects different animals.  It was a nice, albeit unintentional, segue.
My youngest took this photo.  He says that I never put pictures of myself on the blog posts.  I told him that it was because I took most of the pictures, so he decided to put his own artwork online today.  In my defense, it was very hot and humid!!