This Month's Featured Resources...

Sunday, May 29

The Twist (Chubby Checker)

Last year, while visiting Pennsylvania, we stopped by Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, the first commercial pretzel bakery in America.  (See that post here.)

We learned all about the history of pretzels, and just how easy it is to make them at home.  Since the kids love these tasty snacks, we have been experimenting with different types this year.  

Here are our best recipes, along with a fun unit study!

This is us making pretzels....that is a very big mess!  We made regular pretzels, pretzel sticks, and pretzel bites.  They are super yummy with hot mustard or almond butter.  We even cut some of the larger ones up and made cheesy garlic bread with them...

Pretzel Unit Study

Friday, May 27

Montana (Hank Williams Jr)

(scroll to bottom for unit study)  
We left Yellowstone National Park and chose Couer d'Alene as our sightseeing destination in Idaho. But when you're towing your home on wheels, this drive was too long for us to make in a single day. So we planned a short stop and stay in Butte, Montana. We had no idea what we were going to see and learn on "the Richest Hill on Earth."  Our first stop in Butte was the Visitor Information Center, where we learned about the history and geology of this area and the importance of mining to this area, and to our nation's economy.
 At the Visitor Center, we learned that:
  • the town of Butte is located at an elevation of 5,538 feet and sits within the Rocky Mountains and straddles the Continental Divide
  • in Butte, gold was discovered in 1864; silver was found in 1874; and copper was discovered in the 1880s
  • there are many different mining methods
  • the town of Butte once produced more than 1/2 of our countries and more than 1/4 of the world's copper which has earned Butte the distinction as "the richest hill on earth"
Excited to learn more about mining, our family headed to the Granite Mountain Mine Memorial, where we learned about the worst hard rock mining disaster in the US which occurred here in 1917.
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We felt the hazards of mining as we stood on location and read information about this tragic day in our nation's history of mining.  Not wanting to end our school day, we made one more stop in Butte.
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We stopped at Berkeley Pit, where we read, learned, and discussed:
  • different mining techniques like underground mining, block cave mining, open pit mining, and vein mining
  • the advantages and disadvantages of each mining technique for the mining companies, the miners, and our environment
  • environmental hazard sites and the responsibilities of mining companies to protect and restore the environment
Our family had no idea how much we'd learn in Butte, Montana!

Montana State Unit Study

Robin is a wife, homeschool mom, and blogger. She has been homeschooling for 14 years and has
recently started a blog,, to help other homeschool families. In 2011-2012, Robin and her family took a year-long RV Road Trip across the USA. She blogs about their travel adventure

Thursday, May 26

Freezer Cooking : Cultural Classics

Love to freezer cook?  Check out our new book : Freezer Cooking Through the Year!!

Better-for-You Taco Soup
  • 1 lb ground beef or turkey
  • 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • (2) 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 15.5-ounce can hominy, drained
  • 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 15-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 to 2 cups water
  • 1 cup red enchilada sauce
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions : 
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a 5-quart slow cooker. Cook on high for 6 hours.
  2. To freeze : Divide the soup into meal-size portions in plastic containers. Chill before freezing.
  3. To serve :  Thaw the soup in the refrigerator. Reheat, stirring, in a saucepan until heated.  When ready to serve, you will need salsa, shredded cheese, and sour cream.

Herbed Soda Bread
If you want an authentic Irish taste, add a tsp of caraway seeds and a cup of raisins to the batter before baking.
  • 3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp finely-chopped fresh herbs (dill, thyme, or basil)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Directions :
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease the loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray or butter.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix in the butter, using your fingers or a pastry blender, until it is fully incorpo­rated into the flour. The mix should resemble coarse bread crumbs or small peas. (You can also do this in the food processor. Pulse the flour and butter 3 to 5 times, or until they are mixed.) Blend in the herbs.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with the buttermilk. Quickly stir this wet mixture into the dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. Press the dough into the prepared pan and cut a long slash down the center.
  4. Bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the loaf stand for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn it out onto a cooling rack. It can be sliced immediately or eaten cool.

Friday, May 20

I Can't Get Started (Dakota Station)

(scroll to bottom for unit study)  

Today, we're heading north to Bismarck, North Dakota with the Smith Family!

Lewis & Clark / North Dakota Unit
Mom writes :
After not enough time in South Dakota, our family chose Bismarck as our sightseeing destination in North Dakota. One of our family's long term goals on a year-long road trip was to visit as many state capitals as we could. When it was time to decide where we wanted to go in North Dakota, we realized that we hadn't toured a capitol since New Mexico.  We didn't stay in Bismarck long, but we did stay long enough to :
  • tour the North Dakota State Capitol
  • explore the North Dakota Heritage Center
  • enjoy the Steamboat / Keelboat Park along the Missouri River
Most of the time our family takes a self-guided tour of capitols, but we took a guided tour of North Dakota State Capitol. On the tour, we learned that the capitol is the tallest building in Bismarck...
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...which offers great views from the 18th floor.  Our tour guide said that on a clear day you could see the Pacific Ocean and look into Canada from the 18th floor of the North Dakota Capitol.
On our way to the North Dakota Heritage Center, we met up with Sacagawea and saw a buffalo.
At the North Dakota Heritage Center, we explored the exhibits and galleries and learned about the history of North Dakota. We especially enjoyed the exhibits on dinosaurs.
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After spending a couple of hours indoors, we took a short walk and found the Steamboat / Keelboat Park where we enjoyed the walking trail along the Missouri River.  We also enjoyed the wayside exhibits which taught us about this area at the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
This full-size replica of a keelboat is similar to what Lewis and Clark would have used.

Robin is a wife, homeschool mom, and blogger. She has been homeschooling for 14 years and has
recently started a blog,, to help other homeschool families. In 2011-2012, Robin and her family took a year-long RV Road Trip across the USA. She blogs about their travel adventure 

Thursday, May 19

Groovin' (Young Rascals)

Over the past couple of years, we have checked out a few different box subscriptions, and this is honestly one of the best!  Intended for kids aged 8-12+, each Groovy Lab in a Box comes with the supplies to do hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) experiments.

This is a well thought out box, with opportunities for further exploration…it is NOT your basic craft box.  Our lab came with a notebook full of information for learning, questions for thinking and making connections, directions for each investigation (with pictures for clarification), and space to write  observations and “brainstorms.”  The lab book is written at a child’s level, but without being condescending.  There is also a “Beyond the Box” section on the website for diving deeper.

The creator says : “Our core belief is that we want to bring this generation back to the NASA Apollo era when children wanted to be scientists and engineers and science was at the forefront of the media.  Hence our ‘retro, 50’s’ brand and logo design.  We believe science should be more ‘Pop-Culture’ in our society. We believe a strong STEM education is the future for our children to be competitive in the 21st century.  Science and art go hand in hand and children are encouraged to draw, journal, and think about their engineering design challenges."  
The activity box takes some time to do…it’s not something the kids are going to finish in an hour.  One box could occupy them for days – more, if they decide to go ‘beyond the box.’  The online-enrichment that comes with each box (which truthfully is a science unit in itself) is incredible! The actual box is only a small part of the whole package.

Engineering Design Challenge for the Lunar Launch Box: 
You are a groovy aerospace engineer and the head of Project Apollo contracted by NASA during the Apollo era in 1969. Using only the materials in your Groovy Lab in a Box, can you design, build, and launch a rocket which travels the farthest vertical distance to the Moon?

Explore force and motion; Newton’s Third Law: Action – Reaction, investigate potential and kinetic energy associated with rockets and learn the groovy history of the Apollo 11 mission – the first lunar
landing of the lunar module “Eagle” in 1969 – and much, much more

We started the box together, going through it and coming up with a ton of questions for the kids to keep in the back of their minds as they did the experiments.  Then, I let them go off together and enjoy!  Every once in a while, they’d come back with a question, but for the most part they were able to complete the kit themselves.  I like how it promoted teamwork, and was appropriate across grade levels.

Pros :
  • Everything is included
  • Each box has at least 3-4 experiments
  • Instructions are clear, with great illustrations
  • Questions asked to encourage investigation
  • Impressive Lab Notebook
  • Reaches a wide range of ages
  • Reusable materials
  • Online resources provide a science unit
  • Ability to go beyond the box through password-protected resources on their site
  • Cute retro look!  (that’s a plus to me…the boxes are easily repurposed, they’re so cute)

Cons :
  • Younger children (under 9 or 10) are going to need a lot of parental assistance

The Nitty Gritty
  • The Cost:
    • Monthly: $29.95
    • 12 months: $24.95/mo
    • 6 months: $27.95/mo
    • 3 months: $28.95/mo
  • Boxes ship FREE to US

Tuesday, May 17

Touch of Grey (Grateful Dead)

What do glass-blowing and oceanography have in common???  Let's find out!

The weekend was just all-around nastiness - you know how it is when the weather changes. Everyone was starting to get a little stir crazy...   Scroll down for a short unit study to accompany these trips - science & art today!

After using up the last of our winter pumpkins (that's a pirate, princess, and scary guy), we stuffed everyone in the car and headed out to the Great Dismal Swamp!   (Doesn't "dismal swamp" just sound like a day brightener???)
At the Great Dismal Swamp Arts Festival, we got to see some amazing artwork!  The highlight of the day, however, was watching this guy give his glass blowing exhibitions.  The kids were very interested in it, and watched almost all of his shows.  Why are they dressed up, you might ask?  There was a costume contest at the end of the day.

Virginia Beach Aquarium
The following day, it was still drizzling and just nasty, so we loaded up the kids and headed to the aquarium for the afternoon.  There were lots of different animals to look at, and a huge focus on oceanography!
Our son used this trip as a chance to speak with scientists and researchers while completing his Oceanography Badge for Boy Scouts.  You can see his complete work over here.
It wasn't that crowded, so we were all able to have some quiet moments exploring the things that interested us most.
Then again, silly family time is important, too...  HELP!!!!!!!!!!
The two favorite stops?  Inside a submarine - which the kids could actually pilot.  And the moment when the cobra fanned himself at us in warning.  Argh!
Finally, we stopped in at the travelling exhibit, which was all about dinosaurs.  The dinosaurs moved and roared, which was a little disarming, even to the biggest of kids!
Before heading home, we stopped off at Virginia Beach for one last romp through the ocean waters.  It will be quite some time before we get back to the ocean again.  It was a bittersweet moment.
Overall, a rainy, nasty weekend turned into a memorable family opportunity!  If you ever have a chance to visit the Virginia Beach Aquarium, we recommend it.  It's one of the best we've seen!

Oceans & Marine Life