Saturday, July 28, 2012

Taffy Pull

I've made lots of types of candy before, but never taffy. I've always wanted to try it, though, having read about "Taffy pulls" in books (Little House on the Prairie? Or Betsy-Tacy or something like that?). So we set out to do so.

Along the way, I learned that my candy thermometer must be about 15 degrees off---which is weird, as it registered the right temperature for boiling water (204 at this altitude). Of course that means that though I took it off the heat at precisely the temperature the recipe specified, the taffy cooked way, way too hard---into hard, Werther's-type butterscotch, in fact. But that wasn't the first thing that went wrong; no, the first thing was that I looked away from the stove for a few minutes as we were making covered wagons and forgot the taffy, and it burned into horrible blackened sugar. Awful! Knowing how disappointed everyone would be, I said we'd start over---and this second time yielded our delicious, but very un-taffy-like, hard butterscotch.

I was NOT planning on a third attempt---but then, I just decided, the kitchen was already a mess---we  already had a bunch of pots to wash---why not one more? "You're SOOOO nice," said grateful Abe as I started Taffy Attempt #3. I couldn't deny it.

This is the recipe we used, and we found it particularly helpful---more than the others we saw. Now that my trusty candy thermometer had let me down (I assume it was the thermometer and not the recipe---because the recipe is for the Lion House taffy, which means the altitude is the same as it is here. Otherwise I might have thought I needed to adjust the temp. for altitude, but nope.) I had to just watch the taffy and try to get it to the right color and consistency. The pictures accompanying the recipe helped me do so.

So, finally, it was perfect, and all we had to do was PULL the taffy! This was quite fun. The little ones got tired quickly (Daisy's piece never did really whiten) but the rest of us soldiered on. You have to pull for quite a long time to really make the taffy fluffy and white and soft! The pictures linked above, again, were very helpful in seeing what color of taffy we were aiming for.
The taffy turned out quite yummy. I don't think I love taffy enough to make it often, but maybe for a party or something it would be fun. Especially now that I know what consistency I am looking for when cooking it! And, we enjoyed imagining our pioneer ancestors watching and laughing at our pitiful efforts from on high. Good old-fashioned fun! :)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Wheeler Farm

Wheeler Farmhouse

There are probably dozens of good Utah Heritage places we could have visited for our Pioneer Unit field trip (This is the Place monument, Antelope Island, Kearns Mansion, etc.) but we have seen the signs along I-215 for Wheeler Farm and have always wondered what it is. It's a great place to visit---you can go walk around the grounds and look at the animals, feed the ducks, etc. for free. For $2 a person, you can have a wagon ride and a blacksmith demonstration and make butter and have a guided tour. That's what we did, and it was really fun. We also got to milk a cow---something I have (go ahead and laugh at me, farmers) always wanted to try. It just seemed like an experience one should have! So I was very pleased to get the chance. I'd heard you have to take a while to get the hang of it, but Jessie (our cow) was obviously totally used to this and we barely even needed to squeeze her udders to get the milk to squirt out. I thought it was really cool and so did the kids. Even Daisy, once she got past the fact that cows are HUGE!
It was such a hot, hot day. I had been sick and I had a fever, so I honestly thought I was going to pass out from the heat. When we got home into the cool house I declared we would have root beer floats for dinner. And we did.


Pink cheeks

The only bad part was the flies. So many flies! Yuck!

This was a cool little tree house the kids could play in. There was another little play house over by the river. This would be a great place to come with a picnic---we will have to come back!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Pioneer toys and games

I wanted to try making handkerchief dolls, using this tutorial---although I wasn't really sure if the children would like them that much---because it seemed like such a good demonstration of using what you have creatively, and being happy with it! We talked about how kids have always been able to make toys and games out of whatever they have---which the boys can definitely relate to, being the kings of stick-games and rock-games and whatever-else-they-find-games. Anyway, the dolls looked easy enough, and since I didn't have any handkerchiefs around (my Dad used handkerchiefs, though! I can still remember my mom teaching me to iron, using his handkerchiefs, when I was about Malachi's age) we used dishtowels.

We left off the lace borders on the dresses, so the only really tricky part was embroidering the faces on. I'd thought both older boys could do that, but the dishtowel fabric was woven so loosely that it was hard to get the thread to stay in. Abe sort of managed it, but I had to do the others' myself. Once we had faces, Abe wanted to make his into a bear, so we sewed little ribbon ears on. And Seb wanted his to be a man with a hat, so he picked out some brown ribbon and I sewed it in a sort of circle on top of the head. It looked very strange, but Seb liked him and named him Man-Hat immediately. 

Daisy and Ky both wanted girl dolls, but the only lace I had for a bonnet was a very wide eyelet, so they look more like brides or nuns than bonnet-wearing girls. To my surprise, Malachi fell in love most with his doll. He named her "Whitey" (!) and took her everywhere with him for the next several weeks, and cried if he didn't have her in his bed at night. He liked to fly her around with her arms in the air, like an airplane.
Daisy loved hers ("Doll") too, but then, I knew she would.

We also made those button/string "whirligigs", but no one except Abe could really figure out how to make them work. Abe enjoyed his, though.

We had tons of fun playing pioneer games. I'm happy there are enough of us to make the group games at least sort of possible! We used the following games (and I can't even remember where I got this list of rules, but they are pretty basic---I'd played most of them before). Poor Doggie and Bear in the Pit were favorites, as well as the sack races.

Bear in the Pit – The children form a circle and hold hands to create a barrier. One child is inside the circle and is designated the Bear. The Bear tries to get out of the circle anyway he/she can. Once the Bear escapes, all the children chase after him/her until one child catches him/her (tag, do not tackle!). The child that catches the Bear is the Bear in the next game. 
Hide the Thimble: One child is designated ‘It’ and hides a thimble or other small item in the schoolroom while the other children have their eyes closed (No peeking!).
After the item is hidden, the children can open their eyes and begin to wander the room seeking the object. Once a child  sees the object, he/she leaves it there and goes back to
 his/her seat and sits quietly until everyone else has found it and returned to their seats. The first child to see the object cannot help anyone else find it. As soon as everyone has found the object, the child who found it first is designated It and must hide the object again. 
A variation on Fox and Geese was Drop the Handkerchief. In this game the players would sit in a circle while one participant circled. This player would drop a handkerchief behind one of the
seated players. After dropping the handkerchief, the standing player had to run around the circle and fill the open spot in the circle (made available by the person who received the handkerchief).
Whoever did not refill the open spot became "it," charged with dropping the handkerchief in the next round. Today this game is known as "Duck, Duck, Goose." 
Poor Doggie (or Poor Kitty): The point of this game is to make a player smile. The player who is "it" is the doggie. They must try to make someone smile or laugh. The players sit in a circle
and the "Doggie" goes to each player and barks, whines, and imitates a dog. The players have to pet "Doggie" and say "Poor Doggie, Poor Doggie, Poor Doggie!"
The player must not smile while saying this or he/she will become the next Doggie. Players are allowed to laugh and smile when the "Doggie" is not visiting them. 
Races: Have a sack race or three-legged race. For a sack race you will need a burlap sack or old pillowcase. Have the players put their feet inside the sack and then race to a finish line.
In a three-legged race two people stand next to each other. The two legs next to each other are tied together. Then they have to race to a finish line. 
Who Has the Button?, the players form a circle, and the person who is “it” leaves (or closes his/her eyes) while the others pass a “button” or another object around the circle.
One person hides the object behind his/her back. All the other players put their hands behind their backs, too. Then “it” is allowed three guesses as to who is hiding the object. If “it” guesses correctly, they exchange places, and a new person is “it.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Making Covered Wagons

We made covered wagons so we could talk about what kinds of things were most important to the pioneers as they journeyed west. This is not a craft that needs much explanation (box + cardboard wheels on brads + curved paper over the top).  The older boys wanted to make supports under the wagon cover so they could hang things from them (they liked the story of how our great-great grandfather's cradle was hung from the wagon supports and he rocked in there happily as his parents drove the wagon toward Nauvoo), so they used lines of twist-ties for that.
When the wagons were made, the great delight of the project came in making all sorts of tiny, tiny things to fill them with. Abe and Seb made tiny candles, miniscule rifles to hang on hooks, little blankets, miniature scriptures,  and all sorts of other supplies.
Daisy became fixated on the tiny gold brad fasteners. After I hadn't heard a peep from her for forty minutes or so, I discovered her hard at work in the other room. She had filled her wagon with them, driven off to the art table, and begun to arrange them meticulously in little groups. I don't know if she was pretending they were people, or what?
This was at my mom's house on Pioneer Day---her ward always has an Ice Cream Party on Pioneer Day, and she has all kinds of costumes for the kids to wear. I loved Junie in a bonnet (but can't say she felt the same).
Daisy was very proud of her (teeny-tiny) French braid!

Pioneer Johnnycake, interviews, and homemade butter

Here's our basic schedule for  the Pioneer Unit. I'm sure I won't always want to/be able to make up weekly schedules like this, but it's a method that's working well for me right now. And even if I don't always stick to it religiously, it helps me to have an overview to work from (and usually before I post it, I update it to show what we actually did, which I'm hoping will help me with planning later).

A couple things we enjoyed that aren't pictured: 
--looking at this map of the westward trails, and comparing it with roads of today
--interviewing Grandma--who is NOT a pioneer, of course, but we talked about journals and personal histories and how it is that we know about what life was like before we were born. The three boys came up with four interview questions each to ask Grandma about her life when she was their age. Then we practiced and practiced (by role playing) HOW to interview someone. Everyone thought this was hilarious because they played the part of Grandma and I played the part of one of them doing the wrong thing. That ranged from interrupting her, to leaving the room while she was talking, to appearing uninterested ("LOOK at her while she's talking!", I kept saying) to letting her answer with just a yes or a no ("Always ask a follow-up and get more information!"). When they did the interviews for real, I thought it was so adorable to hear the following exchange:
Seb: Grandma, did you have any pets when you were young?
Grandma: Yes, a parakeet.
Seb: Oh, and so . . . hmm, a parakeet. Tell me more! Just, tell me everything about it. And about any other pets, if you had any. IF you had any, but it's fine if you didn't. A parakeet is perfectly good!

On to the food elements: You can't do a unit on pioneers without making butter, right? That's one of the few things I remember from first grade---making butter in baby food jars. But after watching the Happy Scientist's video [I don't think you need a subscription for this one?], I learned more about the process than I'd ever known before. He explains it so clearly! I also appreciated his tips on how, exactly, to shake up the cream. (Slow, deliberate shakes, after having left your cream out of the fridge overnight, make the process way easier and faster! Hooray!)
Butter, nice and soft, with buttermilk in the glass behind


On another day, we made johnnycakes (or journeycakes), which are cornmeal pancakes, because we love this book:
and because we read they were a favorite of Joseph Smith's. There are lots of recipes out there, ranging from really simple (cornmeal, water, and salt) to more complex. I assume that the pioneers would have adapted the recipe to their various situations---so, maybe the eggless version out on the trail, but using eggs and sugar, if they had them, at home. We used this recipe, which maybe wasn't the most authentically pioneer-y, but looked like it would be good. And it was. The pancakes themselves were pretty crumbly (and a bit dry---I would need to do more experimenting with the liquids to perfect it) but tasted great with our vanilla syrup.
This reminds me of the drawing of the "tiger pancakes" in the story of Little Black Sambo (or its improved update, The Story of Little Babaji

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Viennese Waltz

Having spent the previous day learning about solfegge and yodeling (and what a day it was! Some of the videos I found of yodelers were just . . . awesome. Having the kids all going around the house yodeling to each other was also hilarious.), we were all primed and ready for Sam's lesson on the Viennese Waltz. He taught us about Strauss and about the origins of the waltz, and then we moved the couch out of the way and went to it. (Sam's a way better dancer than I am, but we've taken a dancing class together before, so at least I know sort of what I'm doing.) If there's a more delightful sight than your husband waltzing up and down the hall with his four-year-old son clutching his legs and hanging on for dear life, I don't know what it is. The kids LOVED it. They loved tramping along and spinning around and falling down breathlessly at the end, and they kept begging us to do it again and again. It wasn't the most . . . elegant dancing ever, but it was definitely energetic!

We listened to a bunch of dance music afterwards and had the kids pick out which ones were waltzes. They were great at recognizing the "ONE two three, ONE two three" rhythm, and later when we were at the Sound of Music play, they all leaned over to me during the Ball scene and whispered excitedly "They're WALTZing, Mommy!"

The best part was a few days later when Sam heard Malachi saying, "Come on, Daisy, let's waltz!" I came out to see, and there they were waltzing around the driveway (in their pajamas, naturally). So CUTE!

The Sound of Music

Here we are at the Culmination of our week of study, at The Sound of Music play (musical?).

It was fun seeing a play with the kids (just the boys; we left the girls home with a babysitter)---we haven't done that often before, but with them being so well-prepped for this one, we all really enjoyed it.  Also, Malachi kept being unwillingly folded up in his chair (he just wasn't heavy enough to hold it down, poor boy) which provided us with much amusement.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Inflation and Propaganda

After learning about hyper-inflation in the Weimar Republic (which is one of those slippery concepts for me---inflation, I mean---that I feel like I understand but then I get re-confused about it whenever it comes up), we did an exercise to help make it more understandable. This helped ME. I handed out money as "wages" to each child, and had a "store" full of little treats (toasted almonds, pieces of IKEA chocolate, etc.) which they could buy with their money. Prices were a bit high, so after a while I (the government) printed MORE money so everyone would have enough to buy what they wanted. But the stores, needing to pay their employees and suppliers more to keep up with the inflation, had to raise their prices. So I printed more money, and so on. We soon saw how everyone was getting paid thousands of dollars at a time, and then having to spend that thousand dollars on a single almond. To help drive the point home, I had a few historical pictures of kids using stacks of worthless German money to build towers with, and people burning banknotes in their stove since it was more cost-effective than buying fuel. The kids thought this was SO funny! They were pretty put out about how the inflation made all their play-money worthless, though. All day, they kept asking me, "Can I buy another piece of chocolate? I'll give you $5000 for it!"---to which I would reply, "Sorry, the price has gone up to $1,000,000 by now."

Abe's propaganda, showing "The Boiled Hair Cutter" (NEVER BUY) and the horrible fates that await you if you do.

We had talked briefly about propaganda in Sam's political portrait lesson, but in this unit we talked more about Nazi propaganda and showed a bunch of examples (which are horribly amazing, by the way). The Anti-Jewish stuff is the worst, but the idealized Aryan Families are pretty interesting too. The kids liked looking at these examples and proclaiming that they would never be fooled by such things! Too bad most evil messages are more subtle now . . . :) We watched some commercials on YouTube, both older and more modern, to discuss that very point.

Then, we did an activity where we had to pick an object out of a bag and draw a propaganda picture about it, trying to influence the viewer's opinion one way or another. (My own stellar contribution, a diatribe against Sam's yellow rubber dishwashing gloves---"STOP THE FLOP!"---is unfortunately not pictured.) Then we had to give a presentation about our pictures.
Nobody really knows what Daisy drew, or what she was talking about, but she gives a great presentation

Malachi's object was a turkey baster. He tried to convince us to buy it because it makes you magic and turns into a rocket that takes you to the moon. And several other astounding things.

Sebby, predictably, took the sinister direction, like Abe did: this purple teacup attacks you with electricity, knives and guns. "Never, ever buy!" his poster proclaimed. (Subtlety is not a 6-year-old's, or a 9-year-old's, strong point, I suppose.)

Holocaust Unit

We had tickets to "The Sound of Music" at the Hale Center Theater (a special matinee for ages 3 and up), and I was trying to think of what we could study that would help the kids understand that story more. I checked out a few books about "the real story" of The Sound of Music (I put that in quotation marks because it's always subjective, right?---I read books by both Maria and by one of the Von Trapp children, and they each had their own distinct interpretations of what "the real story" was) to see if anything came to me.

What I decided was that we should do a unit on the Holocaust, with a little Austrian history thrown in. Even though the play doesn't have a huge focus on the War, it's a good springboard to the subject---and it certainly becomes more meaningful when you realize what is at stake for the Von Trapp family. I thought it was interesting that, in my reading, some people seemed to dismiss The Sound of Music as soon as they learned it was historically inaccurate, or "Hollywoodized" or whatever. For me, knowing the variations between movie and real life (the family really escaped by train, for example, instead of over the mountains) enhanced it and made it even more interesting to me. And I can't dismiss the appeal of the story, accurate or not---it's an accessible, engaging jumping-off point for further discussions about Hitler, the Anschluss, etc.

As I was planning out the books and activities, I kept thinking, "This is a weird subject to bring up with little kids. Will they be too scared or disturbed? Or worse, will they be bored and fail to realize the significance of this topic?" It seemed too insensitive to be looking for "activities" related to the Holocaust---yet I did want to make it interesting for the kids! So I spent a lot of time worrying about how it would all come together.
As it turned out, the kids seemed fascinated with the history of World War II, and were really interested in the books we read even when they were slightly above their level. (I often just tell about/summarize the longer parts for them.) In fact, all three of the boys asked me (when I said, "There's a lot more to study about World War II---we didn't even scratch the surface of it") "Please, can we do another World War II unit soon?" Hopefully it wasn't just their morbid curiosity (they did love looking at the photos of WWII destruction---bombed cities, etc---and I kept trying to say, "But remember, these were people's HOMES!") and they got at least a small sense of the weightiness of war.

This was, of course, a very brief and incomplete introduction to the Holocaust. I only showed a few pictures of the Concentration Camps, for obvious reasons, although those I did show were examined minutely by the boys. There were a few really good children's books I found, in addition to the more historical/older audience books we read from. I got emotional several times during this unit, and especially while reading these books, but I think it gave the lessons a little weight they might not have otherwise had (Abe kept peering curiously up at my face, trying to analyze why my voice kept quavering).

My favorite of the books was this one:
It's a great story; sad but thought-provoking, and well-told in the actual words of a German Jewish girl. There are pictures of her, now an old lady, in the back of the book, and it gives a nice sense of closure.

We loved this one too:
This one is a legend (no documentation of it actually happening) but it's a beautiful story, and was a good way to introduce the idea of resistance.What should good people do when confronted with evil? I liked the discussions we had, about how the answers to that question aren't simple, and how good people found different good ways to resist the Nazis.

This story (sorry, no picture) was a good one too, from a cat's perspective. The little kids especially liked it.
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