Wednesday, July 31

Studying the Middle Ages with Homeschool In the Woods {Review}

Home School in the Woods is a long-time favorite vendor of this history-loving family!  We've used them as supplements to our regular curriculum, as well as for targeted unit studies.  During the several weeks that we spent on the palliative care ward recently, we used the Project Passport World History Study: The Middle Ages from the Project Passport series as a way to get some summer studies time in while keeping the kids occupied during long days.
The Middle Ages focuses on life during medieval times, class systems, Vikings, knights and castles, the Crusades, battles, inventions, herbs, church history, and much more!  Project Passport also covers Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, and the Renaissance -- we've used a few eras and enjoy all of them.  It's suggested for grades 3-8, but can be tailored a bit to make it friendly for all ages in the family.  It should take about eight weeks to complete the full study.
When you get the product, it downloads in a zip file which opens into a whole lot of smaller files.  It's a bit of a pain because there are so many files, BUT it's also a good thing because it gives me the option to print only those things that we'll need.  In some cases, there is a choice of color or black and white graphics.  I usually choose B&W to save on print costs.  

Once it was all printed out, I spent an evening putting together a binder and backpack for us to take back and forth to the hospital.  I divided the binder into three sections: our daily 'stops,' projects that would be used each day, and projects that are only used once (see top right image on collage above).  After doing a few of these Project Passports, we've found that this system of organization works best for us.  

Project Passport features twenty-five ‘stops,’ each featuring a different aspect of life in the Middle Ages.  At each stop, there is a selection of text and activities to accompany it – including timeline work, arts and crafts, and newspaper writing.  Some of the stops also have an ‘audio tour,’ which is like a short audiobook to go with it.  The audio tours are one of our favorite features of the program!

There are teacher files in the unit that will talk you through completing your first Project Passport as a family.  These contain tips and suggestions for a smoother, more fun experience.  This section also has suggestions for read-alouds, quiet reading, and movies to supplement your unit.  

I like to look at the overview of all stops (see bottom right image on collage above) to see what we'll be covering each day, and also to make sure that we have any necessary supplies.  One handy tip for you -- at the bottom of each activity sheet is a number.  This code tells you which stop (the first number) and which page of that stop (the second number) the sheet corresponds with (see bottom left image on collage above).  Should your pages get scrambled, it's very easy to quickly find what you need!

One of our favorite aspects of Project Passport are the incorporated hands-on projects!  Admittedly, we had a bit tougher time doing some of them, as we were working within the confines of a waiting room for the majority of our time, but we found some workarounds....

Moving clockwise in the collage above:

  • We colored and cut out figurines to act out some homemade (and humorous!) plays about life in the middle ages.
  • The boys had a good excuse to put together their Lego Viking ship and sail it.  There is a make-your-own, paper Viking ship included with the unit, but they were inspired to put together the Lego one instead.
  • Stained glass windows are a hallmark feature of medieval architecture, and we were able to design a beautiful church front!
  • There are several cooking recipes included in the daily stops, such as barley soup, herb bread, gingerbread, roasted chicken, and meat pies, but the only one we had a chance to make this time was gruel...which is really a more primitive form of oatmeal.  The cooking projects are amazing, and I highly recommend that you do several!  Home School in the Woods is great about incorporating recipes, as you can see in this blog post about Adding Interest to History with Recipes!
  • Make your own coat-of-arms.  We studied the symbolism behind coats of arms and then the boys had a chance to design their own.
  • The rose mosaic project was altered a bit, as we couldn't use tiles, but did use crayons to design a beautiful rose.  There were a couple of instances where we substituted crayons for tiles, paints, or pastels in the name of keeping it simple for the circumstances.
  • Pilgrims (think pilgrimages, not Thanksgiving) often wore badges to indicate that they'd been on a long, personal journey.  We figured we were all pilgrims, and made some badges from tin foil!
  • Other (not pictured) projects include - learning about medicinal herbs, making rosewater, creating a Bayeaux Tapestry, making a castle keep, vocabulary cards, and a very thorough board game that is a lot of fun to play and review Middle Ages facts!!

Honestly, this was an odd summer for our family.  We spent several weeks in palliative care as Dad came to the end of his battle with cancer.  This project was a blessing in that it gave us something portable that both entertained and educated the boys (and some cousins)...which in turn helped them to be more patient with the long days, which in turn helped the adults to focus on 'adult things.'  Should your family find itself in a similar situation, I recommend this type of product for your schooling.  It's easy to carry, covers history, science, and language arts, and can be tailored to the supplies you have on-hand.

Peek inside the Time Travellers series - World War 2 in the video below!

See what others are saying about Home School in the Woods over at the Schoolhouse Review Crew!
World History (Project Passport), U.S. History Studies (Time Travelers) and Timeline Collection: A Collection of Historical Timeline Figures  {Home School in the Woods Reviews}Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, July 30

Re-purposing Ideas for the Homestead

Whether you have a hobby-homestead, are a frugal momma, or just spent a lot of time with the 'Greatest Generation,' re-purposing is a simple fact of life.  Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!  These five ideas will help you to save money, do a little recycling, and even bring a personal flair to your home!

Bottle Cap Steps
Coke, beer, kombucha, and more...they all come in bottles with handy little metal tops that can be re-made into many things!  My grandma used to make trivets, but we're making steps for the garden.  Using a plastic ice cream tub lid and some plaster of paris, create a unique design with your bottle caps to bring more color to your space!

Need some lids?  Buy them in bulk here.

'Smalls' Organizer
Using a plank of wood, old peanut butter (or quart ice cream) jars, and some gorilla glue, you can make a shelf that doubles as an organizer below.  Glue the lids to the shelf (it's gorilla glue; they'll stay) and put washers, screws, and other small things into them.  Screw the container to the lid for storage.

Gorilla glue is super strong!  

Zip-Tie Hose Planter
Ran over the garden hose with the lawnmower?  Don't toss it!  Wrap it up, tie it with zip ties, and use it for a planter.  With the advent of our teenage sons doing the mowing, we have a few of these planters!  When duct tape no longer works for a patch, upcycle the holey-hose into something new and unique!

Zip ties can be used for so many projects that we often buy them in bulk...
Urine Fertilizer
Pee-cycling.  It's a thing.  When you add urine - human or animal - to plants, they tend to grow much healthier!  Urine is a natural fertilizer (N-P-K...11-1-2.5).  Just be sure to dilute it 1:8 with water!  Some people are squeamish about collecting urine, and might try a special collector....or just peeing outside!

Scrap Garden Apron
Using some scrap heavy-duty cloth, I created this apron a few years ago.  It's not HAUTE COTRE, but it is durable and holds a lot of produce!  Using two large pieces, sew the apron base and create a pocket.  Using doubled-over heavy-duty cloth, create thick apron ties.  Triple or quadruple stitch both the pocket and the ties onto the apron.  I get get about fifteen pounds of produce in the pocket of this easily....the cloth was just project leftovers...and it makes harvesting the garden a little bit simpler!

Solar-Powered Clothes Dryer
There's a beautiful, fresh scent that comes from sun-dried clothes and sheets.  Spritz them with your favorite essential oils if you need a dryer-sheet scent.  A classic line works, if you have two anchors to string it on, but we like the vintage feel of this rotating umbrella line, which can be put just about anywhere!

This one doesn't really re-purpose anything, but is always a great money-saving and earth-friendly idea!

Monday, July 29

City of the Plague God + Mesopotamian Mythology

***Shout out to our 15yo for creating the Modern Mythology posts***

Between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in the area of modern-day Iraq, the Babylonian, Assyrian, Akkadian, and Sumerian civilizations all together formed ancient Mesopotamia.  Their mythologies differ a little bit, but mostly share the same stories.

This is an area of the first known human civilizations, dating to nearly 5,000 BC.  It is where three of the major world religions - Christianity, Islam, and Judaism - began.

The story of human creation begins with people coming from the mother goddess Mami.  They were created to lighten the gods' workload, and were made of clay, flesh, and the blood of a slain god.  Much later, the god Enlil tries to control their population through famine, flood, and drought.  They are saved, though, by Atrahasis, who built a boat to escape the great flood.  This is similar to the Christian story of Noah and his ark.

Another story that is similar to one in Christianity is the story of Adapa.  He was a very intelligent Sumerian who made the south wind mad.  When called forth to be judged for his actions, he was tricked by An, who offered him the food of immortality.  He had been warned not to eat or drink anything before his judgment, and so he turned down the offer.  Because of this, he never became immortal and all men had to stay mortal.  It is the explanation for man's mortality.

Make / Do
  • Akkadian Empire
  • Assyrian Empire
  • Babylonian Empire
  • Code of Hammurabi
  • Cuneiform
  • Cylinder seal
  • Dynasty
  • Empire
  • Fertile Crescent
  • Gilgamesh
  • Marduk
  • Mina
  • Nebuchadnezzar
  • Persian Empire
  • Shekel
  • Siege weapons
  • Sumer
  • Ziggurats
  • Zoroastrianism

Think about the Book
  • What are some of the similarities between life in Mesopotamia and our modern way of life?
  • What trait do you think is more important in acquiring new skills, natural talent or persistence?
Check out our other book studies!
The original book for this post was The Golden Bull.  When City of the Plague Gods was released as part of the Rick Riordan presents series, it was updated.  Both books make a good base for the study of Mesopotamian mythology.  If you are very interested in this subject, you may want to explore our high school curriculum Empires of the Ancient Near East.

Thursday, July 25

True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle + Novel Study

  • True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
    • Thirteen-year-old Charlotte Doyle is excited to return home from her school in England to her family in Rhode Island in the summer of 1832.  But when the two families she was supposed to travel with mysteriously cancel their trips, Charlotte finds herself the lone passenger on a long sea voyage with a cruel captain and a mutinous crew. Worse yet, soon after stepping aboard the ship, she becomes enmeshed in a conflict between them! What begins as an eagerly anticipated ocean crossing turns into a harrowing journey, where Charlotte gains a villainous enemy... and is put on trial for murder!
Make / Do
  • Practice tying essential sailing knots (7 knots to try here!)
  • Bake up some hardtack (makes 15 biscuits)
    • Flour (4.5 cups), water (2 cups), salt (3 teaspoons)
    • Mix the flour, water and salt together, and make sure the mixture is fairly dry.
    • Roll it out to about 1/2 inch thickness, and shape it into a rectangle. Cut it into 3×3 inch squares, and poke holes in both sides.
    • Cook for 30 minutes per side at 350 on a baking sheet.
    • When it’s done cooking, let it dry and harden for a few days out in the open. When it has the consistency of a brick, store it in an airtight container or bucket. 
    • To prepare for eating, soak it in water or milk for about 15 minutes, and then fry in a buttered skillet. You can eat it with cheese, soup or just plain with a little salt added.
Vocabulary & Think
  • Typically two separate sections, we've combined both into a downloadable and printable unit for this book...
  • Complete the FREE Activity Pack -- includes vocabulary, comprehension questions, and more!
  • Discuss the character meaning behind Zachariah's wisdom: "A sailor chooses the wind that takes the ship from a safe port. Ah, yes, but once you're abroad, as you have seen, winds have a mind of their own. Be careful, Charlotte, careful of the wind you choose."
Check out our other book studies!

Tuesday, July 23

Home-Grown Herb Preservation

We grow tons of fresh herbs in summer, but sometimes we find that we've ended up with far more than we can use!  Bartering for eggs or milk is our first choice, but when that's no longer an option, we aim for preserving the fresh herbs for later.

Storing Fresh Herbs
  • Rinse the dirt and and debris from the herbs after cutting
  • Wrap stems in a moist paper towel and put into a plastic bag with small holes in it
  • Keep in the refrigerator for no longer than a week

Four Preservation Methods
  • Freezing 
    • Y'all know we love our freezer to bits (check out our freezer cooking recipes, if you're new here)...and did you know that you can freeze herbs, too?  Leafy herbs (think : basil, parsley, cilantro) are the best ones to freeze.  After washing, chop them up and pack them into an ice tray.  Cover each "cube" with broth or olive oil.  Once frozen, you can pop them out and store them all in a bag.  They'll keep for up to three months.
  • Oven Drying
    • This is the fastest drying method that we have tried (see below), and is perfect for humid environments.  After washing, spread herbs on a pan lined with parchment paper.  Put into an oven at 150° F with the door slightly ajar.  Check frequently and take them out when they get crunchy and crumbly - takes 1-4 hours.  Store in an airtight jar for up to a year.
  • Microwave Drying
    • So...this is supposed to be an even fresher option than oven drying, and we've heard good things about it, but have never actually tried this method.  Here is a great tutorial from Serious Eats about drying herbs in the microwave : Microwave Drying
  • Air Drying
    • After washing, dry thoroughly (prevents mildewing) and tie the stems together.  Hang upside-down in a warm, dry, well-ventilated place out of the sunlight.  If dust or sunlight is a concern, cover with brown paper sack.  Make sure air is circulating - takes 1-4 weeks to dry.  Store in an airtight jar for up to a year.

Learn more about herbs in Simple Kitchen Fixes.

Monday, July 22

Nick & Tesla's Solar-Powered Showdown

Solar-Powered Showdown - Kid inventors Nick and Tesla Holt have outsmarted crooks, spies, and kidnappers. Now they have to crack their biggest mystery yet: Where the heck are their parents? To outwit the criminal mastermind who’s holding their parents hostage, the twins will need all their brainpower, the help of their eccentric Uncle Newt, and an assortment of homemade solar gadgets. Will the Holt family be reunited at last? Or will a hijacked solar satellite beam down doom from the skies? The adventure includes instructions for creating a solar-powered hot-dog cooker, alarm, secret listening device, and model car, plus a nighttime signal cannon that fires illuminated ping-pong balls.


  • sardonic 
  • malevolently 
  • ramshackle 
  • chortle 
  • guffaws 
  • ceasing 
  • coy 
  • heaved 
  • prudent 
  • broadened 
  • conceded 
  • moochers 
  • proactive 
  • spittle 
  • cronies 
  • pelted 
  • incoherently 
  • contrary 
  • wasteland


Document - Use your Free Lab Notebook for these!
  • Using a pizza box, tin foil, and plastic wrap, create your own solar s'mores maker!  (Pics to right)  Draw the schematics for your unique design and predict how long you think it will take to make the perfect s'more.
  • How is Louis XIV of France related to solar energy?
  • How did the solar-powered rover fail and succeed at the same time?
  • Write a newspaper article chronicling the adventures the kids had while tracking down their parents.  Include a catchy headline, quotes from the characters, and facts from the books. 
  • What would have happened if Agent McIntyre never received the message from the solar-powered rover?  Write an alternate ending to the story.

Thursday, July 18

The BEST Zucchini Bread

Historically, the kids haven't been a fan of green things, with the exception of green beans (every family has their one "thanks heavens!" veggie...right?).  

But this recipe, thanks to its chocolate-y goodness, is a hit!!

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 c olive oil
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 c molasses
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 c grated, packed zucchini, not wrung out
  • 3 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Spray two loaf pans (to prevent sticking).
  2. Mix wet ingredients.  Mix dry ingredients (except flour) separately.  Whisk all together.  Stir in flour until flour disappears.
  3. Bake 55-70 minutes, until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Wednesday, July 17

Why You NEED to Use Schoolhouse Teachers is the homeschooler's online educational resource site.  It’s your one-stop helper-shop, with aids such as: printables, daily lessons, lapbooks, free e-books, and conference recordings on various homeschool topics prepared by recognized homeschool leaders.  You have access to daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly lesson plans by some of the best from within the homeschooling community.

The site includes both online and downloadable components – courses such as Lapbooking, Figures in History, and Literature are downloadable and printable in nature, whereas Family Fitness, Guitar, and Friendly Chemistry are best completed online.

Check out their Freebies section!

If that weren’t enough, there are some seriously cool bonuses to having a Yearly Membership
  • There are over 450 courses taught by outstanding teachers. Courses vary in length from a few weeks to a full year or more, and there is something for every member of the family.
    • There are printable lesson plans for courses that help you keep track of lesson completion.  
    • They also offer a handy checklist that shows which courses are appropriate for each grade level.
  • One membership covers every class on the site for your entire family, from preschool to high school, and beyond.
    • Classes are not live, so you can start ANY time!
    • There are no per-class or per-child fees and you can cancel anytime.
  • They provide you with multiple printable planners, a free membership to World Book Library (e-books), Right Start Media access (streamable movies, such as Drive Through History), and access to the Applecore recordkeeping system.
  • You get a print copy of The Old Schoolhouse magazine, and all back issues are online as well, so that you can access the information as it becomes relevant to your school.  
  • Entire pages are dedicated to parenting special needs, preschoolers, high schoolers, and focused learning centers (new ideas for teaching struggling learners).  
    • There are sections on homemaking, homeschool living, monthly menu plans, and discounts for a multitude of vendors–there’s even a section just for craft ideas for the kids!  
  • The Monthly Menu page offers up an entire month of seasonally-appropriate recipes for each month of the year.  
  • Schoolhouse Expo seminars, classes specifically for adults, family movie access (streaming), and extra member discounts make this great for parents, too!
For one flat rate, you have everything needed for the school year -- all grades, all classes -- at your fingertips.  You choose whether to use printable or streaming classes.  The only thing required is reliable internet!
 $5 Trial

Monday, July 15

Nick & Tesla's Special Effects Spectacular

Special Effects Spectacular - In Nick and Tesla’s Special Effects Spectacular, 11-year-old siblings Nick and Tesla Holt find themselves on the set of a big-budget superhero movie. But someone’s sabotaging the onscreen debut of their favorite comic book hero, so the brother and sister sleuths must crack the case with the help of a fresh assortment of homemade special-effects gadgets. This cinematic saga features instructions for all-new movie magic projects that kids can build themselves, such as camera gear, stunt dummies, make-up magic, and more. Science and electronics have never been so much fun! 


  • dismissively
  • shambled
  • hypothesize
  • winced
  • ensued
  • gesturing
  • resumed
  • fluttering
  • distinctive
  • sarcastically
  • wily
  • mutely
  • commotion
  • spectacle
  • intrigued
  • deserted
  • mode
  • conceded
  • rue
  • infallible
Document - Use your Free Lab Notebook for these!
  • How are Nick and Silas similar?  How are they different?
  • What is the purpose of 'slang?'  Find five examples of slang from the book.
  • A novel has some basic parts: introduce problem, rising suspense, climax, answer problem.  Which points in the book are the highlights of each of these four parts?
  • How has computer-generated imagery changed the movie-making business?
  • Choose one career in the behind-the-scenes sector of the motion picture industry.  Research what that person does, the training needed, and why they are important to the film.

Wednesday, July 10

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky + African-American Folklore

**Shout out to our 15 year old for writing the Modern Mythology posts**

When the African slaves where brought to America, starting in Jamestown's latter years, they were forbidden to be educated.  This did not prevent them from bringing their own culture and languages, and keeping their heritage alive. They kept the stories going through storytellers and oral communication. As time passed, the stories changed and grew. New stories were written, while some were unfortunately lost. These stories served as a way to connect the slaves and free blacks to their heritage, and sometimes as a way to keep records of events. Today, many of the stories are still passed down as African-American Folklore.

  • The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus 
  • Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
    • Seventh grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he's going to spend on his grandparents' farm in Alabama, where he's being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie's notebook. Tristan chases after it--is that a doll?--and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature's hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American folk heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves?
Make / Do
  • Make a Bottle Tree
  • Write your own folk story about Brer Bear, Brer Rabbit, and Brer Fox.
  • John Henry
  • Anansi
  • Brer Rabbit
  • Brer Fox
  • Brer Bear
  • Tar Baby
  • High John
  • Haint
  • Gullah
  • Uncle Remus
  • How do you think some of the stories are related to current events at the time?
  • Which story is your favorite? Why?