This Month's Featured Resources...

Father's DayTravel - CookingLatin WW2

Friday, February 26

Jackson (Johnny Cash & June Carter)

It's Fan Field Trip Friday!!!   
Want to get your trip featured?  

We finally made it to the Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson! You remember him, right? You may have met him on the $20 bill!     Every year, on the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, January 8th, the Hermitage kindly offers a day of free admission to the public. Unfortunately, it’s often icy, snowy, or super cold. This year we only had to deal with some clouds and slight drizzle. (I’m actually a fan of days like that--less crowds!)
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When we arrived, we were immediately greeted by President Jackson himself, and his lovely wife Rachel. They were more than accommodating. President Jackson even let my son, Will, try on his hat!    Since we were there to celebrate victory at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815, we were also greeted by soldiers showing off their guns. Then we were ushered through the Battle of New Orleans displays. Cue the music! (Actually, there wasn’t any music, but I thought they should be playing the Battle of New Orleans.) Andrew and Rachel were decked out in their finest for the celebration.
The biggest hit of the day happened to be an interactive Battle of New Orleans display table. The children were guided through the the Battle of New Orleans through a touch screen experience. They could read along as they were told interesting facts about the battle and asked thought-provoking questions. They learned about Jackson’s strategy and winning the battle against all odds. 
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Then we toured the rest of President Jackson’s museum. We walked through a timeline of his career and journey to the White House. He is the only president who's lifetime spanned an entire era of history--the Jacksonian Era.    At the end, we paused to write something new we had learned about President Jackson during our stroll through the museum. My five year old daughter did a lovely portrait!  
Next, we were off to see the mansion built for Jackson. It was beautiful. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos inside, but we did snap of a picture of the outside when there was a break in the rain.    While we were waiting in line, we even got to meet an old friend of Andrew Jackson’s, Judge John Overton. He told us about a time that he and Jackson got into an argument because he was a man of reason, while Andrew Jackson was a man of action. He never stopped to reason when action would do.   
  Our last stop was the garden, one of Jackson’s favorite spots, even though his wife was the one who bore the brunt of the gardening work. Even in the winter, there were enough flowers peeping out to make it a beautiful stop. I would love to have a garden like that!
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  Finally, we paid our respects at the grave of President Jackson and his wife Rachel. Jackson had the forethought to set aside a small cemetary for some of his future descendants as well.
Jackson’s closest servant and slave was also buried there. (One of the controversial things about Jackson was his stance on slavery.) Although your experience may not be exactly the same if you visit a different day, The Hermitage is always a beautiful place to visit and get swept back in time. 

You can imagine what it would have been like to be alive at such a pivotal point in American history. Stroll through the gardens and take in some fresh air as you dream. Just make sure to come back to the present and make some history of your own.   May the Road Rise to Meet You, Tara (a.k.a. Minivan Mom)   

  What do you remember most about President Jackson? Who was your favorite president?  

Unit Resources

IMG_9505Tara is a homeschool mom who lives in Nashville, TN with her family of five. Visit her at, where she blogs about making Jesus the driving force in your family. Her goal is to help you help your kids fall in love with Jesus. You can also hang out with her on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and follow MinivanMin on Periscope. Thanks for reading!  

Thursday, February 25

Free (Train)

Organic pecan butter is one of my favorite treats.  It's also $18 per teeny-tiny jar.   Heck, the organic pecans alone are $16 / lb, on sale, at the store.  I love to eat well, but I'm also cheap.  It's a constant battle...
Luckily, we have several pecan trees in our yard....and children who proclaim to be 'bored.'  Well, they used to.  I don't think they'll make that mistake next year.  Some years, the pecans fall like rain.  Other years, there's nary a nut to be found.  This was a feasting year.
Picking up pecans in the fallen leaves is a bit like Mother Nature's Ultimate Word Search puzzle.  *chuckle*  But the payoff is excellent.  After some negotiations, we agreed to pay the children a percentage of what we saved by making our own pecan butter, and they decided to pick up a few more buckets, in spite of the visual difficulty.
After being cracked and blown (removes them from the shell by machine; sort of), we were left with sixty pounds of pecans!  That may sound like a lot, and it is, but we still had oodles of them on the ground....which the squirrels will be happy to take care of for us.  We spent a week separating shell from meat, and then set to work on the pecan butter.  We used the shell pieces in our winter garden to aerate the soil and provide some nutrients for the coming spring.
As we separated shell from meat, we tossed the whole meats into a separate bowl.  These will be used for pecan pie and other recipes that call for whole meats in the future.  The smaller pieces were being used to make nut butter.  However, the food processor chose this week to stop working (guess what mom got for Christmas...), so we used the old salad shooter to crush the meats.  It worked fairly well, but I'd recommend a food processor if you have one.  Then we mixed in the spices and jarred the butter.  You'll find the full recipe below.
All in all, not a bad deal.  Mom got several jars of good-quality, homemade pecan butter, and the boys got their new Lego Ninjago set they'd been saving up for.  .............and they all lived happily ever after.

Cocoa-Cinnamon Pecan Butter
  1. Soak the nut meats overnight in water.  This will make the nuts easier to process, and easier to digest.
  2. Drain the water.
  3. Pour the meats in your food processor (or salad shooter, as the case may be).
  4. Chop them into teeny tiny bits.
  5. For every cup of chopped nuts, mix in 1 Tbsp of cinnamon and 2 Tbsp of cocoa powder.
  6. Stir well.  Really well.  Mash as you stir.  Then, stir again.
  7. Spoon the mixture into jars.  Mash and squash as you spoon it in there.
  8. Refrigerate and use within a month.  
  9. Freeze the extra jars.  Use them within a month after thawing.

Monday, February 22

Across the Universe (Fiona Apple)

March 2nd is Read Across America Day!  Schools across the nation will dress up in Dr. Seuss costumes, read their wackiest stories, and celebrate as silly-ly as possible!  (It's Dr. his honor, I can make up a word!)  

We have compiled some of the best resources for celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday, and sprinkled in some extra goodies for learning United States geography and culture.  Lots of freebies, including an exclusive bundle made just for our readers!


Read Across America Resources & Games

More Resources for Studying the United States

  • National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A.  - Includes fun facts, amazing photos, conservation information and more!
  • How the States Got Their Shapes - These interesting videos explore how our states' borders evolved–and continue to change.
  • Little Passports - United States & World versions - Monthly travel & education subscription box.  We have exhausted both series, and the kids still pull out their goodies to play!
  • Resource List of science, history, and geography supplements...all the fun stuff!
  • Get a free copy of our Read Across the U.S.A. bundle!  This packet has reading suggestions for each state, broken down by grade level, and book report forms for several different types of books.  A coloring sheet and other fun extras are included, too!
  • Trip Buzz - This one is new for us, but it looks like a great resource for things to do in thousands of cities (with a focus on specific themes like kid-friendly, free/cheap, date ideas, etc.)

Friday, February 19

Leave Me In the Dark (Keri Noble)

FAN FIELD TRIP FRIDAY! (scroll to bottom for unit study)  
In the science world, the study of fungi is known as mycology. Fungi (which is plural for fungus) were once thought to be a kind of plant; however, today they are considered to be more closely related to animals. Fungi (along with bacteria) are our primary decomposers, meaning they break down plant and animal material. 

Fungi are very important, not only because they are decomposers (can you imagine a world where dead things did not break down?), but also because it is through fungi that we get yeast to make our bread rise and antibiotics to make us healthy when we get sick. Some fungi are edible, but many are poisonous. 

Did you know that people with penicillin allergies generally cannot work at a mushroom farm?    
  • The reason people with penicillin allergies tend not to be able to work at mushroom farms is due to the sheer number of molds that mushrooms are susceptible to.

 Hmm.. what else did we learn on trip to the Whitecrest Mushrooms factory in Ontario, Canada?
  • Mushrooms can carry a variety of diseases, so growing them in a sterilized environment keeps them clean.  The farm we went to had a big fire a while back and since then moved away from wooden beds (which apparently are still quite common) to these metal beds we see here.
They were stacked I think about five high with about two feet clearance between each row.   Whitecrest only grows cremini and portabella mushrooms, and these mushrooms can double their size in a 24 hour period.   I got the impression that if you buy these types of mushrooms in southwestern Ontario, they are most likely from Whitecrest, just sold and packaged differently depending on the needs of the marketer.
This section of the bed has been treated with salt.   It kills the mold and gets rid of "wet spots."  The picture beside it is another illness mushrooms get.  They have to keep a strong handle on mold because if they don't, it can quickly overwhelm a mushroom farm.   That gets really expensive, really quickly!

I happen to love mushrooms, and made that fact clear to the presenters, and they graciously allowed us to sample their merchandise.   Mmmm... Fresh picked creminis... YUM!    We had a hard time restraining ourselves after we got permission to enjoy them.   I thought it interesting how many of the moms along didn't like mushrooms and the noses wrinkled when we enjoyed them.

Did you know that if you leave a mushroom in the sun for five minutes you will get your daily dose of Vitamin D?
  • You can even run them under a UV light, and they will get 300% Vitamin D; that will carry over into the store until they are purchased!
  • To get more Vitamin D into foods, Whitecrest Mushrooms is investigating ways to make more use of mushrooms, from putting them into burgers, grinding them into a powder, and adding them to breads, stews, soups, and other things.

Each of the children in our group was able to enjoy a ride on the lift up and down the racks.   My son tried hard to convince me to go on it but I'm not into heights and therefore declined the invitation.

We were taken through the various sections of the plant.   From the growing rooms, to how they move the mushrooms from one part to another, the chilling room (if you change the temperature of a mushroom too quickly you will lose one week off it's life), to the packaging area.   It was quite a fascinating tour.  I have to admit, I hoped that they would send us each home with a package of mushrooms....

Safety Note :  Please do not eat mushrooms unless you know for sure what species they are, and that they are safe!!!

Mushrooms & Fungi Unit


Today's fan field trip comes from Annette @ A Net In Time.    She is a multi-faceted person who is a lover of God, pastor's wife, mother of one, reader of books, blogger, raiser of rabbits, home-educating parent who reads much, reviews materials, laughs often and somehow manages to get through her days by the grace of God. You can find her at A Net In Time (schooling/review blog), AT Home Pets (rabbit blog), and Fish and Cans (bible/devotional Blog).   

Thursday, February 18

Milk (Garbage)

Homemade Cottage Cheese Recipe (makes 1 1/2 lbs)

  • 1 gallon pasteurized milk, skim or whole
  • 1/8 teaspoon calcium chloride diluted in 1/4 cup water (if using store bought milk)*
  • 1 package direct-set mesophilic starter, 1/4 teaspoon bulk mesophilic starter or 4 ounces prepared mesophilic starter
  • 1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet (or 1/4 rennet tablet) dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water

Helpful Resources :

  • Warm the milk to 72F.  If using calcium chloride*, add it now.  Add the starter and mix thoroughly.  I usually make this cheese in a large, stainless steel pot with a very thick bottom.  If you have a large double boiler, that might also be helpful.
  • Add one tablespoon of the diluted rennet,and mix thoroughly with a gentle up and down motion.  (Tip : Use a potato masher to blend the rennet up and down through the milk.)  Cover and let set at 72F for four to eight hours, or until the curd coagulates.  The curd will be rather soft.
  • Cut the curd into 1/2 inch cubes.  Allow to set, undisturbed, for ten minutes.   Use a long knife that reaches all the way to the bottom of your pan, and move smoothly and gently – don’t tear the curd.  Try to keep your cubes as uniform as possible so your cheese cooks evenly.
  • Increase the heat by three degrees every five minutes, until the temperature reaches 90F, stirring gently to prevent the curds from matting.  If you have a large double boiler, you may prefer to use that instead for more even, gentle heat.
  • Increase the heat by one degree per minute, until the temperature reaches 110F, stirring gently to keep the curds from matting.  Again, watch your heat and try not to heat too fast. 
  • Maintain the temperature at 110F for twenty minutes, or until the curds are sufficiently cooked and no longer have a pudding-like interior.  Stir every few minutes.
  • When the curds are sufficiently cooked, let them settle to the bottom of the pot for five minutes.
  • Pour off the whey.  Pour the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth.  Tie the corners of the cheesecloth into a knot.  To make the cheese less sour, wash the curds by dipping the bag several times into a bowl of cool water.
  • Let the bag drain for several minutes.  Then, rinse the bag in a bowl of ice water to cool and place the bag in a colander to drain for five minutes.
  • Untie the bag and place the curds in a bowl.  Break up any pieces that have matted.  If desired, add the heavy cream to produce a creamier texture.   Add the salt and herbs to taste, if desired.
  • Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

*Note :  This cheese needs to sit for several hours to culture, so make sure you plan ahead so you have enough time.  It takes anywhere from six to ten hours, start to finish, with a four hour rest time.  It doesn’t require constant attention.

*Note : Calcium chloride is added to milk that has been commercially pasteurized because the heating process decreases the amount of calcium in the milk, which means that the rennet can’t do its job as well.  To pasteurize milk at home, heat the milk in a clean, non-reactive pot to 145F, and hold it at that temperature for 30 minutes.  Then, chill in an ice bath to 40F, and refrigerate until ready to use.  I’m not going to tell you whether to pasteurize your milk or not – we use raw milk – freedom of food choice is yours.

Friday, February 12

Peace Behind the Bridge (Carolina Chocolate Drops)

It's Fan Field Trip Friday!!!   
Want to get your trip featured?  

Today, we're following the Bradsher family through the Videri Chocolate Factory in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Having grown up near Hershey, PA, Amy had always been familiar with the basic chocolate story, but she was surprised to see the machinery in action to small-batch everything at Videri!  The owners take great pride in creating a fair trade, high-quality product.  Chocolate is a very expensive product to make, and you can use every piece of the cacao bean in some way.  Videri was started by group of Raleigh residents who wanted to create wonderful chocolate, from the bean, every day.  It's a cozy, downtown chocolate factory that scrupulously sources every ingredient to insure a high quality, socially responsible chocolate.

Making chocolate is a fascinating process that's both an art and a science.  Their kids learned about the process of turning a cocoa bean into chocolate, sustainably and fairly. They were able to watch the entire small-batch process, and sample a variety of this yummy chocolate! They also learned about the hard work and dedication required to start and grow your own business.  Overall, They were all impressed with the quality of the product and the hard work that the Videri's few employees have to making their business work - and it seems to be thriving.
We loved seeing Amy's family trip as it compared to our own trips to the Hershey Chocolate Factory and Hershey town!  These pictures look so delicious that we can't wait to get back to North Carolina to pop in for a taste!!!!!!

Chocolate unit :
Amy, resident scribe at A Nest in the Rocks, is married to a wonderful man who smiles away at her wacky ideas and classroom messes. Enjoyed by her Big Helper and her Little Man, who love to get down and dirty during school time and playtime, they can usually be found building away, while Amy frantically photographs and writes about each experience. You can find their Nest and read about their family adventures at A Nest in the Rocks.