Friday, November 30

Blue Jeans & Pearls

As Christmas approaches, it can be a challenge to juggle your budget with the gifts you want to give.  One way that we stretch our budget is through crafts.  The big kids are always wearing holes through their jeans, and when they can no longer be patched, it's time to upcycle!  Today, we're making some wine bags to use as hostess and thank you gifts...

After cutting the legs off of your adult-sized (or teen-sized) jeans, just below the knee, make the outline of your design in tailor's chalk.  Paint over the design with a fine-tipped or firm-edged paintbrush.  Allow your design to dry overnight.

Sew the bottom of the pant leg together, just above the thick portion.  If you try to sew over too thick a seam with a regular sewing machine / needle, it will break....and you don't want that to happen at high speed!  (You can also use heavy duty needles.)

Turn the pant leg inside out, fold down two 3/4" sections, and make a seam.  Be sure to leave the space between open, as this is where you'll run your drawstring.  Again, be cautious when going over the pant seams, or simply skip that small section altogether.

Cut a length of ribbon just a few inches longer than the circumference of your pant legs (twice the measure of the top when laid flat).  I used a 1/4" white ribbon that was silver-edged to dress these up a bit.  Use a safety pin to run the ribbon through the opening at the top of the bag, then clip a tiny hole to pull out through the top, as shown in the photo above.  Tie your ribbon (which will act as the drawstring), and VOILA!  Easy, homemade wine bags for gifting! 

Schoolhouse Review Crew : 2018 Blue Ribbon Awards

Click on the links to read full-length reviews for each product.  (Find all of our curriculum reviews here.)

  • Heirloom Audio: Wulf the Saxon - Can we say enough good stuff about this entire line of products??  Nope.  Our number one choice audiobook, these are more like audio movies for the car.  Our only complaint is that there aren't more of them...
  • Drive Thru History Adventures - We've long been fan of the history DVDs here, which tie in Biblical history with both ancient and American history, but this online curriculum to accompany them makes an excellent high school resource.  We hope to see more from them in the future!
  • Home School in the Woods - The products found here make a superb supplement to any history curriculum.  Our favorites are the Time Travelers series, with Project Passport taking a close second, and they cover just about every era.
  • One of our personal favorites is The Good & the Beautiful, which covers all four eras each year!
Language Arts
  • Memoria Press: Logic I & II - Perfect for our high schooler who is interested in pre-law, this two-course set goes way above and beyond my skills!  Fortunately, it came with a DVD set and comprehensive teacher's guide...
  • A favorite in our house is The Good & the Beautiful, which combines language arts, geography, and art history.
  • Guitar 360 - Online music lessons that you have access to for life?  This amazing service is like having private instruction in your home!
  • Artistic Pursuits - A history-based art program finally got the kids interested in some of the basics of art it was hands-on fun!
  • Great Waters Press - Hal & Melanie bring years of parenting experience (six boys, y'all!) to the table, and they keep it real every time.  You'll learn a lot while laughing aloud!
Unit Studies
  • We Were There books - This one is our own work, and we think you'll love it!  Using the Charlotte Mason method (that's 'reading aloud with the family'), these immersive unit studies tackle one aspect of history each.  Perfect for middle and high school students!

Monday, November 26

Advent Calendar --> A New Approach

Everyone is getting excited about Christmas.  They're putting up decorations and pulling out advent calendars....maybe the Lego one or a chocolate-filled one...but do we truly remember the meaning of Advent?

Advent means 'Coming' in Latin, and the season is about celebrating the coming of Jesus into the world. Christians use the period of Advent to prepare and remember the real meaning of Christmas..or they used to.  Now it seems that many folks are more interested in whipping through the season as quickly as possible to get to the big show...and that's not how we want to live anymore.

What's the deal with the calendar?
Paper calendars were first popular in Germany in the early 1900's, although people made their own ones from the 1850's.  During World War II, the production of Advent calendars stopped due to a shortage of cardboard.

When they were first made, scenes from the Christmas Story and other Christmas images were used, such as snowmen and robins, but now many calendars are made in the themes of toys, sports, and candy.  The first calendar with chocolate in it was made in 1958, although they didn't become really popular until the 1980's.

Time for a Change
We are fortunate enough to have a warm home, food to eat, and all of the necessities.  Not everyone in this world, or even in this country, can say the same.  In this time of celebrating Jesus' birth, why not spread the love by sharing our wealth with those less fortunate?

Take a box, basket, or tote and each day, place a non-perishable food or toiletry item into it.  Each child can fill their own basket, or you can have one for the family.  At the end of the season, either on Christmas or in January (Three Kings' Day / Epiphany), take the items to a shelter or food bank.  

A Few Extra Thoughts...
  • I recommend the latter date because after the hustle of donations throughout the holiday season, pantry shelves tend to become more barren in the early winter months of January and February.  
  • In addition to canned and boxed food items, consider dish soap, laundry soap, toilet paper, personal hygiene products, trash bags, and sponges. 
  • If you happen to travel frequently, collect the unused sample sizes for shelters.  These are the perfect size, as folks are typically only there for a couple of days.

Below is a picture for sharing on social media, if you'd like to help spread this mission!

Wednesday, November 21

Homemade Bone Broth --> Nourish Your Body & Soul

For centuries, people have known that you use the whole animal when cooking – not just select parts.  Bones are traditionally used for stocks and broths, which are the foundation of cooking.

Bone broths are extraordinarily rich in protein, and can be a source of minerals as well.   They support detoxification, better digestion, and good skin health.  And, as we all know, chicken soup (especially made with real broth) helps to overcome colds and flu.

However, what we’re seeing on the store shelves today is nothing more than a chemical cocktail designed to look like traditional broth.  If you want the real thing, and its benefits,  you’ll have to put in the effort.  No worries….it’s not that much effort!

Bone Broth Recipes

Simple Stock
  • 6 c chicken bones
  • 2 chicken feet (or 1 pig’s foot)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • Cold water
Let all stand in container 30-60 minutes.  Then cook 24-72hours on low, making sure remains just covered by water.  Remove bones with slotted spoon.

Get-Well Soup
  • 1 whole chicken, with head and feet
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 4 qt water
  • 1” grated ginger
  • 3 cloves smashed garlic
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 2 sliced carrots
  • 2 sliced celery sticks
  • 3 c. assorted veggies (leafy greens, potatoes, misc veggies)
  • Sea salt
Put everything in stock pot and bring to simmer.  Simmer 2 hours (after a boil, to cook chicken).  Remove chicken meat from bones (keep about 1 c there for soup ; use rest for other dishes).  Return bones to pot and make more stock.  Can add noodles, if desired.

Stock Eggs

  • 2 c. homemade stock
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 eggs
Bring stock to boil.  Add salt and 1 tbsp vinegar.  Reduce to simmer and crack eggs into mix.  Simmer 3 minutes, or until cooked.  Top with rest of vinegar and serve.

Bone Meal
Clean bones after making broth.  Roast at 400 for an hour, or until they become dry and brittle.  Let cool.  Place in a sack and pound to break into small pieces.  Use food processor to grind into meal.  Can be added into broth to provide calcium and nourishment.

Gingered Borscht
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 diced onion
  • 3 diced beets
  • 2 diced carrots
  • 1 diced red pepper
  • 1 diced apple
  • 1” diced ginger
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 6 c bone broth
  • Salt
Heat butter, olive oil, and onion in large pan.  Add beets, carrots, pepper, apple, ginger, cumin, and 1 cup of broth when onion is soft.  Cover pot and allow veggies to sweat.  After 10 minutes, add other 5 cups of brother.  Bring to boil, then reduce heat.  Simmer 30 minutes.  Turn off heat.  Once cooler, blend veggies with immersion blender.  Salt to taste.


Tips :

  • Try to add chicken or pig’s feet to the pot to thicken the gelatin.
  • Water should just cover the bones.  For chicken, 3-4 pounds of bones per 4 quarts of water.  For beef, seven pounds of bones for 4 quarts of water.

Monday, November 19

We Were There on the Nautilus

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At the height of the Cold War, President Eisenhower ordered the Navy to attempt a submarine pass through the North Pole in response to the nuclear ICBM threat from Sputnik (Russia).  On January 17, 1955, the Nautilus departed Groton, CT.  In May, she sailed from New London, CT to Puerto Rico.  This 1,300-mile transit broke many records….it was the longest ever by a submerged submarine and achieved the highest sustained submerged speed.

On August 3, 1958, the U.S. nuclear submarine Nautilus accomplished the first undersea voyage to the geographic North Pole during Operation Sunshine.  She dove at Point Barrow, Alaska, and traveled nearly 1,000 miles under the Arctic ice cap to reach the top of the world.  She then steamed on to Iceland, forging a shorter route from the Pacific to the Atlantic and Europe.

his journey through the Arctic was not without risk, as the instruments could become disoriented beneath the ice, causing the crew to guess their longitude and course.  The commander even considered using torpedoes to blow a hole in the ice if the submarine needed to resurface.

You may not know…
  • The Navy numbers its submarines consecutively.  The USS Holland (SS—1) was commissioned in 1900.  Nautilus was officially SS-571, the 571st Navy submarine, and she was in service from 1954 to 1980.
  • Most submarines of the era could remain submerged 12-48 hours, but the Nautilus could remain underwater for two weeks or more.
  • USS Nautilus was named for the fictional submarine in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
Nuclear Energy unit :
Nuclear energy is a very powerful type of energy that is used to create electricity for many households across the world.  In our previous book, we learned how it was used to make bombs.  
Fission is when a large atom is split into two or more smaller atoms, thus releasing a huge amount of energy.  When this is done in a controlled environment, it can be used to generate electricity, such as at a nuclear power plant.  About 20% of electricity in the US is generated by nuclear power plants.
Nuclear power is also used to propel ships and submarines, such as we saw in the case of the Nautilus.  Nuclear-powered submarines can stay underwater, and travel at high speeds, for a long time. 
You may not know….
  • The top three states that generate nuclear energy are Illinois, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.
  • In the history of nuclear energy there have been three major nuclear power plant disasters: Chernobyl (Russia), Three Mile Island (United States), and Fukushima Daiichi (Japan).
  • The "smoke" you see coming from a nuclear power plant is not pollution, but steam.


Make / Do
Define / Identify
  • Electromagnetic radiation
  • Alpha / Beta / Gamma radiation
  • Half-life
  • Fission
  • Fusion
  • Radioactivity
  • Cosmic rays
  • Location of nuclear power plants in the US
  • Do you think nuclear energy is a good or bad thing?  Why?
  • How do you think nuclear energy could be harnessed for positive effects in the future?
  • Would you have ventured under the North Pole on the Nautilus?  Why or why not?
Check out all of our We Were There unit studies!

Saturday, November 17

We Were There at the Opening of the Atomic Era

This was one of my sons' favorite books from the series!  They loved how it incorporated history and science, and I think your children will love the unit study, too.  We're going to start with a field trip to the American Museum of Science and Energy, located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee....come along!

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The museum has models of atoms right out front, so we know we're in the right place!

What you'll find inside is a hair-raising experience!  Actually, here, our son is testing out a Van de Graaff generator.  It creates static electricity by brushing a rubber belt across a steel brush, which transfers the static electricity into the ball.  The electricity builds up and then flows through the body, transferring the negative charges and causing the hair strands to repel each other.

We had a chance to try some of the same equipment that was used back in the 1940s by the female Calutron operators. The Calutrons (California University Cyclotrons) used electromagnetic separation to collect uranium-235.
Some of the permanent exhibits include a "Daily Life" photograph hall and this model of the graphite reactor.  By pulling the graphite rods in and out of the container, they stop absorbing the radioactive isotopes and allow a nuclear reaction to occur.  A nuclear reaction was needed to create a bomb, but they needed to be able to control and contain it during production.

The nuclear reaction was created as uranium fuel slugs were pushed (manually) through the core.  The container (shown above) was filled with graphite bricks to absorb the radioactive isotopes.  The uranium slugs fell into a water-filled canal that led to a facility where the plutonium was separated out of the slugs.
The kids' section really brought nuclear energy to life!  In nuclear plants, the splitting of uranium atoms creates a lot of heat.  Nuclear power plants use this heat to create steam, which turns the blades of a turbine to power a generator.  The generator produces electricity, and the water goes back into the reactor cell to be re-used (closed loop system).  Uranium must be refined before it can be used in a nuclear reactor, but a 1/2" diameter uranium pellet provides as much energy as 120 gallons of oil!  

We also learned how supercomputers are so powerful...  Each one of the lines separates a different processing unit, as depicted by the varying colors.  When you combine then, they create a remarkably fast computer!
Bombs were on display over in the airplane section...we learned about how nuclear energy has been used in the military over the past seventy years.  The bombs produced in this We Were There book were carried to Nagasaki and Hiroshima by the Enola Gay, a B-29 Superfortress.
Just outside the museum stands an original prefabricated home, one of thousands that were built to house the Oak Ridge workers and their families.  It is a tiny, two-bedroom home with a combination dining and living room area and only one bathroom.  It is only 576 square feet, and has very thin walls.  You can touch the historic artifacts and step back in time....

Manhattan Project / Nuclear Science unit :
The Manhattan Project was a secret military project created to produce the first nuclear weapon in the US.  It was 1942, and there were fears that Nazi Germany had a nuclear weapon during World War II, so the US wanted to get ahead of them.  Nuclear facilities were constructed at Oak Ridge, TN and Hanford, WA, while the main assembly plant was at Los Alamos, NM.  Scientists developed two types of bombs, a uranium-based design (Little Boy) and a plutonium-based design (Fat Man).  Eventually, the project put an end to WW2 by using these weapons of mass destruction, thus forcing Japan to surrender.

How was Einstein involved?
Albert Einstein helped to influence the project when he wrote to President Roosevelt in 1939, warning of possible German weapons and proposing US research into atomic energy.  The atomic bomb illustrated his principle that a large amount of energy could be released from a small amount of matter.  You probably know it as E=mc2 (Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.)  This was part of his Theory of Relativity.  

Why was it called "Manhattan," if none of the sites were there?
New York City is where the ideas and founders of the project began.  Oppenheimer grew up on Riverside Drive; Columbia University housed the first atomic bomb research; and uranium was secretly warehoused in Manhattan and on Staten Island.

Bonus fact...
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had a little more magic than truth.  You couldn't survive an atomic bomb inside a lead-lined refrigerator.


Make / Do
Define / Identify
  • Atoms
  • Proton / Neutron / Electron
  • Atomic Mass
  • Isotope
  • Anion / Cation
  • Gamma Radiation / Alpha Radiation
  • J. Robert Oppenheimer
  • Niels Bohr
  • Enrico Fermi
  • Trinity
  • Nagasaki / Hiroshima
  • Enola Gay
  • Fat Man / Little Boy
  • Uranium 235 / Uranium 238
  • site locations of the Project (use the map at right)


  • Read through the primary sources in Hiroshima - Was it Necessary? (high school and up) and form an opinion.  Write an essay defending your opinion with primary sources.
  • What might have happened if Nazi Germany had developed a nuclear weapon before the United States?
  • What are some positive effects of the development of nuclear energy?  What are the overall effects of the development of the atomic bomb?
  • If this is a topic that interests you, explore further at the Atomic Heritage Foundation.

Sunday, November 4

We Were There with Richard the Lionhearted in the Crusades

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Known as Richard the Lionheart (because he was a fierce warrior),King Richard I is commonly considered a brave king who stood beside his soldiers when standing up to enemies.  A deeply religious man, when he became king, he swore to recapture Jerusalem - a city that had fallen to the Muslims two years prior under Saladin - as a holy crusade.  This became known as the "Third Crusade."  After three years of fighting, a peace treaty was signed in 1192.  It left Jerusalem under Muslim control, but allowed Christians to have access to the land.

Jerusalem was sacred to all three of the major religious groups because :
  • Christians saw it as the place where Jesus was crucified and ascended to heaven
  • Jews saw it as the site of Solomon's ancient temple
  • Muslims saw it as the site where Muhammad met Abraham, Moses, and Jesus
The city has been passed back and forth, captured and recaptured, several times over the course of history.  The crusades began in 1095, when a group of Arabs took over the city and refused to allow Jews or Christians to enter the city.  The Pope called for a battle to recapture the city, and hence began a series of crusades lasting nearly a century, and even included the tragic Children's Crusade.

As the fourth child, Richard never should have been crowned king; nevertheless, due to disease and death, he was crowned in 1189 upon the death of his father Henry II.  Though one of the best-known British monarchs, he did not speak English and during his ten-year reign, he only spent about six months in the British Isles.  Upon his death, he was succeeded by John (the villain from Robin Hood).
Richard I & the Crusades unit :
Make / Do
Define / Identify
  • Crusades
  • Jihad
  • Richard the Lionheart
  • Saladin
  • Fontevraud Abbey, France
  • Rouen Cathedral, France
  • Westminster Palace, London
  • Jaffa and Acre, Israel
  • Jerusalem
  • Why were Christians and Muslims fighting over the city of Jerusalem?
  • Why would non-soldiers, such as farmers and artisans join Knights and fight in the Crusades?
  • Is there a difference between “crusade” and “jihad”?
  • Were the Crusades successful for Christians or Muslims?  Why or why not?