Thursday, December 3

Nutcracker Suite (Brian Setzer Orchestra)

One of our Christmas traditions is to gussy up and go see the Nutcracker Ballet.  We follow it up with a nice restaurant, and the kids don't even know that they're learning about culture and etiquette.  Good memories, and a nice family tradition...  This year, we've decided to take the month of December off from our regular curriculum and do some fun unit studies.  The week preceding our Nutcracker outing will surely be focused solely on Tchaikovsky and the ballet!

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, ...Clara receives a nutcracker for Christmas, and wonderful things begin to happen.   There’s the battle with the Mouse King, the nutcracker magically transforming into a handsome prince, the trip to the kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and finally the question the next morning of whether it was all Clara's dream.  Was it?

If you’re want to listen to highlights, I recommend the key dances from The Land of the Sweets.  (The Battle Scene is from Act I, but leads into Act II.)

Wednesday, December 2

Frosty, the Snowman (Gene Autry)

When the holidays arrive, we get the itch to bake!  We always bake up lots of treats and hand them out around a gift, as a token of appreciation, and as part of our RACK mission.  This year, we found these adorable Melting Snowmen Cookies!!

Here are a few of the Cooking with Kids Christmas projects we've done in the past :

Ingredients :

Directions :
  1. Cover cookies with white icing, allowing it to drop off the sides (creates melting effect).  Let icing dry 30-45 minutes.
  2. Use black icing and orange sprinkles to create faces on the marshmallows.  Get creative and give them character!
  3. Glue marshmallows to cookies with white icing.  Using black and colored icing, give the snowmen buttons, scarves, arms, and other embellishments.  Let dry at least two hours before transporting.
  4. Complete this melting snowmen craft while waiting for them to dry!
Pass your holiday spirit on!!!!!!!

Monday, November 30

Rocket Man (Elton John)

I see no need to reinvent the follow us here to our HUGE free space & astronomy unit study!!  We've got lapbooks, literature, science, physical education, math, more rabbit trails, and even music videos.  If your kids are as space-crazy as our's, they're going to love it!

On to Alabama!!!  
En route to our Virginia job, we stopped off at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville.  It was a rainy day, so the outdoor activities were off the table, but a very friendly docent gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the newest section of the museum, which will open next summer.
The main exhibit is a really interesting, futuristic look at scientific applications.  We explored the role of DNA in general disease, and created our own virtual selves.  The boys also tried their hands, er heads, at mind control.
The Space Camp section of the museum will soon be open to the public for tours, and this friendly docent led us behind-the-scenes to check out all of the new stuff.  It's so new that some of it wasn't even finished yet!
While we were in town, Rocket Boy lost a tooth...and the tooth fairy brought him a gift certificate to the museum store.  Unfortunately, the one thing he wanted was not in stock, so he's holding on to it until we can find a space helmet...  (We've been to three NASA centers and still can't find one.  If you live near one, and they have one in stock, please drop us a line!)

Thursday, November 19

Computer Age (Neil Young)

Short and sweet today....

We passed through central North Carolina en route from west to east, and I had the chance to catch up with an old friend.  You know how they say that the best friendships can pick right up where they left off, even a decade later?  It's true! 
E. and I were both in the same scholarship program, and had oodles of time to hang out during the mandatory 'bus ride across the entire state' excitement after freshman year.  It's a bonding experience...  We are complete 180's of each other, which always worked out nicely.
Today, he works for a company called SAS (which looked an awful lot like Google to me, from the outside).  If you're a computer person...I recommend checking it out for a job!!  Our boys were working on the Digital Technology badges for Boy Scouts, and I thought "Who better to help them with this than E.?"  He loved the idea...and the boys loved visiting!  I have to be honest, though, and tell you that about 3/4 of what he explained to the boys was Greek to me!!  I sure hope they understood!

At the very least, they did learn a few things this day, including what an awesome job you can have if you work hard and apply yourself.  They got to see things that I could never show them, and I got to take an old friend to lunch and catch up.  All in all, a beautiful Carolina-blue-sky kind of day!!!!!!

Thursday, November 12

The Lighthouse Tale (Nickel Creek)

Hatteras & Bodie Island Lighthouses
During our stay at the Outer Banks, we coasted (like the pun?) down Highway 12, through Hurricane Joaquin floodwaters, to Hatteras Island.  Our mission?  Visit one of the most iconic symbols of the eastern seaboard....the Hatteras Lighthouse. 
The poor park rangers had to evacuate their home when it flooded!  You can see the hose emptying it out.  And since there were no park rangers on site, the museum and the lighthouse itself were both closed.  It was a bit of a bummer to drive so far and be denied access, but we still enjoyed visiting this iconic landmark! 
As you can see, we still enjoyed ourselves immensely...having a Silly Day!!!
We found some fabulous historic references, including the very first Hatteras Fresnel Lens from the 1854 lighthouse.  There was also a very nice rendition of the North Carolina lighthouses.
Bodie Island was more of the same....while it wasn't flooded, the lighthouse was closed due to high winds.  We were able to talk with a park ranger for a bit, getting some history of the area, and were thankful that we'd taken the time to pop in last year!

Lighthouses Unit Study Writing Prompts
  • You are commissioned to design a new lighthouse.  Describe the design, including the daymark, height, signal, location, and other details.
  • Before electricity, lighthouse keepers lived on the premises and kept the lights burning.  Write about your life as a lighthouse keeper in the 18th century.
  • Why was the Fresnel lens such an innovation?  What did it do better than previous lenses?
  • Choose a lighthouse, and write a story from ITS point of view.  The story can be set in present day or a historical era.  What did it see and hear?
Reading List

Literature Units
Science & Geography
Painting Lesson

 Build a Lighthouse

Supplies: (per child)
  • paper plate, 
  • 16 oz or larger Styrofoam cup, 
  • 1 inch toilet paper roll piece, 
  • construction paper, 
  • scissors, toothpick, 
  • wooden bead or pony bead, 
  • glue (foam or tacky glue works best), 
  • scotch tape, 
  • regular markers, & permanent markers
  • You can start by coloring your island with waves breaking over the shore and rocks and trees around the island. If a number of children are making the lighthouse and you want to identify the builders, put their name on the other side and set it aside. 
  • Using the bottom of your “tower”, draw a circle on a piece of construction paper for the Dome [Note: you should use the same color paper you plan to color your lantern room]; cut the circle out and set it aside. 
  • Now you decorate the tower. Using the permanent marker (fine point works best) draw the door and windows. At this time you can color your tower with stripes or other patterns to display your daymark (see examples below). 
  • Glue your tower to the island and set it aside. [Note: If you are making a large number of lighthouses for a group of children, it is recommended that you pour some white glue into a small plastic container that the bottom of the tower fits; dip tower lightly into the glue and place it on the island.] 
  • Next prepare the lantern room. Cut 2” piece of paper roll and cut a 5 ½” x 1” piece of yellow construction paper to make your storm window. Using the permanent marker, make a border along the long edges and, if you choose, down the center of the strip. Tape one end of the strip at the top of the lantern room, wrap it around, and tape the other end. Draw in the astragals (metal frame running vertically or diagonally that divides the lantern room glass into sections) with the permanent marker. 
  • Color your lantern room below the window strip. Using the circle cut earlier for the dome cut a slit to the center and slide one edge over the other to form a peaked cap; tape it together. 
  • Glue the lantern room to the top of the tower and the dome on top. [Note: If making a large number, use the white glue in a plastic container, and dip both ends of the lantern room, place on tower, and attach dome.] 
  • Now take the vent ball and carefully put some glue into the hole [Fast drying glue works best], about ½ full, set it on the peak of the dome, and stick the lightning rod (a 1” piece of toothpick, sharp end up) into the glue in the ball. 

Tuesday, November 10

Little Jack Frost (Frankie Carle)

It’s my favorite time of year!  The leaves are falling and the breeze is chilly.  This is when I schedule my marathons, because it's a great time to be a runner!  But it can be a frustrating time if you've just started running and have never had to brave the elements.  

Just like you need to prepare for the heat of summer, you’ll want to take precautions in the icy winter.
  • Get Motivated – Enter a race.  Make a running date.  Tell yourself “just five more minutes.”  Find a tree, and pick it off.  Find what motivates you.
  • Arm Your Feet – Try to find shoes with Gore-Tex uppers, or at least very little mesh.  Wear socks that keep you warm, but not sweaty.  You can’t run on popsicles.
  • Get Dressed – Dress in layers of sweat-wicking fabric.  Here is a general guide :
    • 30 degrees: 2 tops, 1 bottom. Long-sleeve base layer and a vest keep your core warm. Tights (or shorts, for polar bears).
    • 10 to 20 degrees: 2 tops, 2 bottoms. A jacket over your base layer, and wind pants over the tights.
    • 0 to 10 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms. Two tops (fleece for the cold-prone) and a jacket.
    • Minus 10 to 0 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms, extra pair of mittens, 1 scarf wrapped around mouth or a balaclava.
    • Minus 20 degrees: 3 tops, 3 bottoms, 2 extra pairs of mittens, 1 balaclava, sunglasses. Or, says Arribas, "Stay inside."
  • Be Seen – It stays darker and gloomier, generally, in the winter.  Snowbanks may make it hard for drivers to see you.  So wear reflective, neon-colored clothing, and light yourself up (if it’s dark)!
  • Warm up Pre-run – Jump around inside the house before heading out.  Get the blood moving, and don’t start out cold.  You wouldn’t turn on your car and hit the highway without letting it warm up, would you?
  • Deal with Wind – Start your run into the wind, if possible, and finish with it hitting your back.  You don’t want a face-freeze when you’re sweaty, and maybe the gusts will give a little extra push!
  • Change Quickly Post-run – Strip down and get out of damp clothes as soon as you return.  Then drink something hot to warm you slowly.

Take it to the Next Level :  Maximize the Cold Weather

  • Turn up Your Warm-up  Stay in constant motion.  Start with a jog that accelerates to tempo pace for the last two minutes, then continue with dynamic stretches and drills like high knees, butt kicks, and skipping.  Finish up with four to six strides, and jog the recovery.
  • Ease Into Speed  Even after a vigorous warmup, your muscles will be cooler than usual, which raises your injury risk. Start with a tempo run of 10 to 20 minutes, or several long intervals of 5:00 or more, and gradually transition to shorter, faster repeats.  Save all-out efforts for last, when your body temp is highest.
  • Think Effort, Not Pace  Knowing your pace can be demoralizing, thanks to slippery footing and/or your seven layers of clothing; so lose the watch, and focus on your effort.
  • Recover Actively  Alternating periods of all-out running with complete rest causes big swings in heat production. Keep the hot/freezing effect to a minimum with gradual shifts between easy jogging, moderate running, and hard running.
  • Head Uphill  Winter training demands flexibility. Postpone or move up workouts as Mother Nature dictates. And when deep snow makes sessions like long intervals impossible, run hills to mimic the intensity. Run up, jog down, and repeat. Focus on maintaining good form, springing forward with each stride.

Friday, October 30

Cave Song (Pretty Vicious)

Not far from Hershey, PA are the Indian Echo Caverns.  We've been to a few different caverns on our journeys, and these are pretty small in comparison, but if you're in the area they are definitely worth an afternoon stop!!   
In 1929, Mr. John Beiber (no relation to Justin, our guide told us) opened the caverns to the public, with the paths and gravel added for safety.  It is dark, chilly, and damp, and often eerie inside, with tales by our guide about dragons and zombies.
So we learned that the first visitors of the caverns were….wait for it….Indians.  After that it was the French fur-trappers.  They were hanging out in the caves, building fires, staying dry and waiting for animals to be caught in their traps.  That was back in the 17th and 18th centuries.  We also saw carved messages that were put there before the Civil War.  (The message in the photo is dated June 1858.)
Throughout the tour, we saw unique "natural architecture," learned about the animals that call this area home, and learned about a man named William Wilson.  For nineteen years (1802–1821) the caverns were the home of William Wilson, known as the Pennsylvania Hermit.  Following his sister's death, Wilson withdrew from society and wandered westward across southeastern Pennsylvania, settling in the caverns in 1802.  He died underground in 1821.  A little creepy...

Life Underground unit :

Make Stalactites and Stalagmites

Supplies :
  • Two glass jars
  • A saucer
  • Woolen thread
  • Either baking soda, washing soda or Epsom salts
Instructions :
  1. Fill both jars with hot water. Dissolve as much soda as you can into each one.
  2. Place the two jars in a warm place and put the saucer between them.
  3. Twist several strands of woolen thread together before dipping the ends into the jars and letting the middle of the thread hang down above the saucer. The ends can be weighed down with various small, heavy objects to keep them in the jars.
  4. The two solutions should creep along the thread until they reach the middle and then drip down onto the saucer.
  5. Watch what happens to the experiment over then next few days.
  6. Don’t forget to wash your hands when you’ve finished.
What's happening?
Over a few days the dripping water will leave behind the baking soda, forming a tiny stalactite (which forms from the roof) and stalagmite (which forms from the ground). With enough time these may eventually join to create a single column. Stalactites and stalagmites are columns of stone which form in underground caves. They are made from minerals dissolved in rainwater that slowly drips from the roofs and walls of caves.

Thursday, October 15

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Band)

On our first trip to Gettysburg was short and sweet.  We didn't realize just how large this National Park was...but we came prepared this time!  Daddy wanted to come along, so we scheduled an extra travel day just for visiting Gettysburg.
Boys will be boys!  The first thing that caught their eye was the large display of weaponry from the battle.  We spent a lot of time looking at the various guns and swords, and the boys were able to find some of the answers for their Junior Ranger Scavenger Hunt here.
One of my boys especially loves costumes!!  (He's the one that wrote Recycled History.)  He pulled out his sketchbook to make drawings of the General's uniforms from both the Union and Confederate armies.  I'm sure we'll be seeing those re-created as the cold months creep in.
As we studied the impetus for the Civil War, and the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg itself, we also saw various instruments of war.  These included actual cannon and General's swords, plated in gold leaf.
Our musical & mathematical boy was more fascinated by the code-breaking circle, drummer boy's drum, and the canteen and bag (which are much like the ones he uses today for scouts).  We stopped off at the town square for a bite to eat.  This is a tourist town, so the food was pricey, but very good!  And healthy...which is always a plus.  
We visited the Wills House, on the town square, where Abraham Lincoln stayed before giving his Gettysburg Address.  As we perused the shops, we were amazed at the fact that no one was selling Confederate flag memorabilia.  I understand the recent media hoopla over the flag, but if there's one place that it belongs, it's at Gettysburg.  Let's not go overboard...the icon is still a part of our heritage, and this is one of the places it would be appropriate to find it.
After lunch, we took the driving tour of the battlefields.  We stopped to walk around at the Gettysburg National Memorial.  They have a wall here that's similar to the Vietnam Wall in Washington DC.  It lists the soldiers that died in battle here, both Union and Confederate.
This is a huge monument, dedicated to both armies.  It's so big that it has a spiral staircase leading up several stories!   And you can climb it!
At the top of the staircase, you'll find markers like this one that point to the locations of several famous battles.
Here's your panoramic view from the top of the monument...
As we drove around, we came upon several other smaller monuments.  This driving tour could potentially take an entire weekend, so come prepared!  There are bathrooms spotted along the way, but you'll want to bring your own picnic.

Battle of Gettysburg Unit Study

Check out all of our We Were There unit studies!