Monday, January 31, 2011

Colonial Williamsburg Milliner-Sleeve Ruffles and Silky Dreams

On Friday I visited the Colonial Williamsburg mantua maker. I wanted to see their latest project, since their work is so beautiful. They are making a new silk gown, in cream and green, for the big conference in March. They were sewing sleeve ruffles while I was there.


Back Home to the Tundra After CW Audition

I want to extend my apologies to the one or two of you who are anxiously awaiting photos and news!  First off, we did manage to leave NoVA the morning after the blizzard to go to Colonial Williamsburg.  I awoke at 6am hearing on the radio about the terrible road conditions and that those who shouldn't be on the roads should stay off.  All the schools were canceled, even those in DC which apparently is unheard of.  So instead of our usual early morning departure, we waited.  My husband finally called and said GO.  After he arrived at work, he experienced rather decent roads. The main problem were all the cars parked on the highway.  My guess is that they ran out of gas, while drivers were hit by the worst of the blizzard during rush hour traffic the night before.

I had let the kids sleep in late since they went to bed at 11pm after playing in the snow the night before, sledding down the hill for hours.  My son put on regular clothes, scraped off the snow from the van, then after changing into his costume, we finally left at 10am.  The roads out our way were great!  Some traffic lights were out, we got to see all the snow blower trucks and de-icers out. Although our roads had been de-iced before the storm, we had had a day of rain that washed all the de-icer away, before the blizzard hit.  We live in a great county that does a  phenomenal job of clearing our roads.

Before we left, I took the kids' photos with the backdrop of the snowy tundra, while we had the chance for the photo op. Here is my daughter's latest addition to her cardinal red cloak....fur trim!  Similar trim is found on extant garments and the last time we had seen the tailor, he encouraged me to add the trim!  Then there is "the general" as someone always calls him. In fact, guests at Colonial Williamsburg always mistake him for Lafayette.  (gulp) We're really not trying to steal his pedestal from him.  As far as I'm concerned, the CW Lafayette is incredible and I hope he never steps down from that role.  He has made that character a work of art. Nevertheless, it was hilarious listening to the guest (and employee/volunteer) reactions to the costumes.  Details forthcoming in the CW post.  Those reactions were some of the best memories!

Anyway, the whole reason for the trip down to CW was that my son had an opportunity to audition for an EFT!  It was a great experience!  He asked me to help him rehearse by reading opposite him (there's probably a better phrase than that but I'm not in the know.)  He wanted me to give him all the advice I could so we talked out all the scenarios I could think of, but I really don't know anything about this stuff.  I thought he had the part down quite well, he had it memorized, had great expressions, etc.  Then at the audition it was "lights, camera, action!"....and it was an entirely new experience which threw him a bit.  Oh well.  We got to talk to a couple of the actors and learned a lot about this angle of acting, which was quite interesting.  We don't know yet if he got the part.  There were 4 other boys who auditioned as well.  However it turns out, we are already excited about this upcoming EFT and at least knowing he got to audition for the part. It will always be a grand memory!

Since there was snow in the forecast for Friday, throughout Virginia, we just stayed in CW until Sat.  Since this trip was all last minute, we actually wrapped up our history reading for the week, about the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, yesterday afternoon (Sunday after church).   Then I spent the rest of the afternoon reading this week's history lesson, about the fall of Israel at the hands of the Assyrian Empire.  To my friends who have been awaiting photos, I tried getting things posted last night, but I was falling asleep and couldn't think of any words to post.  I've had little sleep in the last 5 nights!

Coming home was interesting.  There is no snow until north of Fredericksburg, where there is scattered snow.  Once turning west from the highway, there is snow galore.  The most snow is definitely out where we are. Little of it has melted. It was amazing how it felt like we had re-entered the tundra after our exit 3 days before. (Can you tell I am still new of this snow galore experience?)   Driving further west to church yesterday, about 30 miles away, the pastoral landscape was beautiful. We live in the foothills of the mountains, in horse country and the scenery is stunning. We are expecting another storm, a winter weather advisory tonight through Wed. Sadly, this one brings ice and rain so all the beauty will be washed away.  I can't believe I'm saying this, but I wish the system were bringing more snow instead.  I like the snow as long as the roads are clear!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Stylistic Techniques in Writing

Ever receive a graded paper back with comments like: sentence variety needed, strengthen verbs, clarify ideas, etc?  I've heard many concur with me on this memory of English teachers and writing handbooks who chartered rocky passages on murkey seas. Although we were rarely if ever told *how* to achieve stylistic technique in writing, we were always expected to use it. Enlightenment came when we began using IEW.  As a result my kids' journeys have been more colorful with actual destinations than my writing expeditions growing up.

As my kids learned how to write, they also learned how to throw in their own creativity with the use of stylistic technique.  Often criticized for formulaic writing, IEW eases frustration points in writing by teaching basic models with checklists of things good writers do. If you read Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, you will see that he educated himself in the same way!  Today he is well known for his witty writing.

In my recent search to nail down how to write literary analysis papers, I stumbled upon many college writing labs with on-line directions.  The more I read the more I was encouraged and the more I laughed.  They were full of the very same check lists we use from IEW.  These check lists and models that IEW uses are not new ideas.  Instead they are merely collected proofs of what good writers do.

In the beginning, all writing programs use writing formulas. Walk down any school hallway and see the walls in the first grade section full of papers that all sound the same.  Children learn to write with formulas.  My college background is in reading. We learned that one way to inspire kids to read and write is to use pattern books, so that kids can internalize the language and eventually write in the same formula.  For an adult, it would be boring reading. For a child, it is fun and engaging and a wonderful beginning.  The more language patterns are read, the more they are followed in writing formulas, they more they are internalized.  In the same way IEW enables a student to achielve success in writing with less stress.  They read great books, following writing models to rewrite what they learned in their reading, and internalize great information and good writing structure and style.

As learners internalize productive writing technique, a new mark is set.  It becomes time to pull away from the training wheels of check lists and blaze forth on a journey of individual style and technique.  My children have now entered this phase in their writing.  After four years of IEW style writing, my kids have definitely learned the basics of structure (how to write a paragraph/essay) and style (how to vary sentences, use strong language, clarify ideas).  Ah but now there is a new hurdle!

Now they get to apply what they learned in a practical way.  Before, when they first learned how to use a variety of sentence openers and dress-ups, they merely followed a check list and tried to find a quality verb, a quality adjective and an adverbial clause (for example) in their paragraphs.  Through these years of practice, when they came to me for help with an elusive adverbial clause, I'd help them see that they could use it to combine ideas or clarify a point, making their sentences more varied and stronger.  I'm not sure if any of that really sunk in.  But now that they were loosened up on their stylistic technique requirements, my kids were surprised by how I graded their papers this time.

Instead of checking off that they used each stylistic element once per paragraph, I focused entirely on content, meaning, and variety.  Horrendously repeated words were circled.  Oh.  They couldn't argue with that. I explained that is why they learned about banned word lists, quality adjectives, strong verbs, etc.  Confusing points were marked. That brought up opportunity for grammar, like they were learning in Fix it.  Keep the pronoun near it's referral noun.  Clarify a point by using a clause of some sort. A who/which or adverbial clause can add punch while slipping in more input.  Do all the sentences start with a subject opener, or is there variety?

Based on this sudden surprise of new grading technique, I handed back their graded papers with an opportunity to do a rewrite and improve their grade.  I know, English teachers never did that for us when we were in school. But how else are we to learn?  My kids knew how to strengthen their papers.  The process is in the practice. And next time will be better, because they don't want to do a rewrite again. Lesson learned. Point of dress ups applied. They aren't in the paragraphs so we can check them off a list. They are there to do a job.  They are to clarify, enlighten and interest the reader.

Colonial Williamsburg Tailor: Waistcoat


A month ago when I was in Colonial Williamsburg in all the snow, I popped in to the milliner to warm up and got busy talking to the mantua maker about lots of lady things: pleating cloak hoods, mitts, muffs, etc.  Then I turned around and saw the tailor working on this snazzy waistcoat! 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Historic WWI Pattern by Anne of Green Gables Costume Designer

The week after Christmas I got this gem for half price during the Sullivan Entertainment's Christmas Boxing Day sale!


I am now the proud owner of a WWI dress pattern based on Anne's' wedding dress in Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story.(The previous link will take you to the pattern for ordering info as well as a photo of Anne in her wedding gown.) The dress was designed by award winning costume designer, Ruth Secord. (If you go to the link, you will see a video clip of her costume designs from various movies. Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story is featured towards the end of the clip.) In the movie Secord was responsible for designing all the costumes, from period dresses to Anne's wedding gown to WWI military uniforms detailed to their representative country.(To see her comments on this project, click on crew, then Ruth Secord.)

In the movie, Anne and Gil marry quickly before Gil leaves for war. Anne's wedding dress is a quick catalogue mail order dress. Accordingly, Ruth Secord did her research. (I can tell already we are kindred spirits!) Her inspiration came from an authentic 1916 mail order catalogue from Eaton Department Store, which was highly popular in Canada. Here you can see portions of a WWI era Eaton catalogue. Here you can see portions of the first Eaton catalogues, when they began in 1884 and view a video clip on the history of the company.Here you can purchase DVDs with pages from Eaton catalogues dating back to 1894.

Having been bitten by the costume bug, this is an incredible addition to my pattern collection. Although WWI dresses are not my favorite style, I do enjoy incorporating my history and literature teaching with period accurate costumes. A year ago when we studied WWI, I could not find a period accurate pattern. Now I not only have a period accurate pattern, but I have one from one of my favorite movie series. When the movie first aired, I confess I was saddened by the complete departure from the Anne books. The jump in history never made sense to me. The first two movies are set in the 19th century and I've heard that The Continuing Story is actually the story of Anne and Gil's youngest daughter, Rilla. With all that aside, I *did* appreciate the movie from a historical perspective. Based on the research I've done on WWI, I've been quite impressed with the historical accuracy of the movie. As a teacher of history, I am glad to have an Anne perspective to WWI, bringing romance, poignancy, intrigue, and bittersweet hope to a horrific world reaching war that was unique in nature from any other war previously fought in the history of humankind. We have other movies set in WWI, which are terribly heavy and depressing, due to the nature of this unique world wide war. Anne courageously faces the war,immersing herself in its danger first as a Red Cross worker (which wasn't as neutral a position as she had hoped) then she got caught up in espionage as she sought a triple adventure hoping to aid the allies, protect Dominic, and find her missing husband against the lurking backdrop of the enemy who appeared at her every turn, holding the viewer in suspense. Truely I think it is a war story masterfully and poignantly produced.

Ah, well, back to costumes...which were in themselves so masterfully designed that they helped a cast of thousands across the WWI timeline of five countries: America, Canada, England, France and Germany to portray a masterpiece. The mastery of the design craft, in dressing believable characters by the thousands, is represented in my new historic pattern.

The pattern guidelines detail the array of historic fabrics that can be used. Far more can be created from this pattern than a wedding dress. Great fabrics from world wide travels were popular in the early twentieth century. Ideas galore can be inspired from viewing the video clip of Ruth Secord's work, as well as immersing oneself in the movie itself. I am especially pleased with the pattern's tip on one of the seam placements, popular in 1916 but not today. Little tidbits of information like that can make all the difference in the success of a pattern. The pattern also details something I've yet to ever see presented in pattern instructions: the advice of making a muslin first for a proper fit.

My friend, Rebecca, also purchased this pattern and blogged about it. Within her post she also detailed the wedding gown of the author of the Anne books, Lucy Maud Montgomery. Rebecca has been to Prince Edward Island with her family, so she has experienced much of the Anne books herself. Her blog article is rich in detail, photos, and links! Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How I Made our Mycenaean Costumes

We used a wonderful reference book for our costumes.
The Ancient Greece of Odysseus by Peter Connolly is well detailed. Connolly has beautifully detailed drawings based on historical gleamings from archaeological digs of Ancient Greece, complete with text as well as a junior level retelling of The Iliad and The Odyssey. I used those illustrations to form my decisions on these costumes. Much of his work is based on frescoes and pottery that show clothing styles. Although women in that region and time weren't known for modesty, I did find historical findings for women who wore modest blouses.

Knowing Target's clothing line, I went there first and found the perfect t-shirts. My daughter's favorite color is purple and I look best in aqua, so those were our color choices. Next stop was JoAnn to raid the quilting section.

At JoAnn, I found the cheapest quilting solids on sale, a great value when only a representative look is needed for a one time stage presentation. Technically, Myceaen clothing was woven. Remember the constant references to women and their weaving in The Iliad and The Odyssey? The fabrics were either linen or wool. The women's clothings had lots of bands of color in the fabric, which leads me to believe it was woven in. Since I didn't have time to weave in color, I decided to sew it in with the quilting solids. I think the cotton I purchased was on sale for $1.99 and served my purposes precisely. I got a yard each of several colorful fabrics.

For my son, he needed a white tunic to be Odysseus. I purchased 2 yards of white cotton. I had no pattern. I basically created his tunic based on the 18th century colonial shirt, which uses nothing but squares and rectangles. After the tuic was made, I had my son select his choice of colors for the bands. I cut the choices into strips with a rotary cutter. Then I turned the edges under and pressed them flat. Next I laid them on top of the tunic, laid down the fringe, rearranging everything to a look I was trying to replicate from the book. Then I pinned everything down and sewed it.

My son created the armour, based on an illustration in the book. He cut down posterboard and formed it to his body, with my help.
We kept analyzing it, comparing it to the picture in the book after I helped him put it on. He says he looked carefully at the picture in the book to figure out how to put the armour on and take it off.

He used brass paper fasteners for the "nail heads". Then he spray painted it bronze.

I made the costumes for my daughter and myself in the same way, but with different colors. There are three parts: the blouse, the bell shaped skirt and the kirtle. Along with bands of color, there are also embroidered bands of trim. I definitely did not have time to embroider, but I did find a treasure trove of embroidered trim at JoAnn which seemed to be quite Myceaen! I purchased 4 different types to incorporate in different ways.

First was the blouse. I replicated the placement of the trim with this colorful piece. I hand sewed the trim to the blouse.

Next was the bell shaped skirt. I had leftover fabric from our Native American costumes in my linen closet. Although it is a suede, I can't help but feel as though it would make a great bell shaped skirt, after looking at illustrations in the book. Making a basic skirt, I sewed up the side seams and sewed a casing at the top for elastic. I know elastic is not period accurate but the casings were hidden by the kirtle (over skirt). My daughter embellished part of her skirt (then I finished it) and I embellished mine. I purchased a lovely gold/green embroidered trim for my skirt. I chose the yellow and green cotton for bands to lay the trim on. I auditioned the fabric to decide whether to put the trim on the green on the yellow, or put the trim on the yellow on the green. After seeing it, I chose the one I liked best. I started rotary cutting the yellow and green into strips, playing with 2-4" strips and laying everything out until I got a looked I like. I agonized too much on this one so I asked my daughter who was sewing embellishments on her skirt. I went with her idea then machine sewed everything down.


Finally it was time to make the kirtle, or skirt overlay. This is full of layers of fringe and bands of color. For the base, I used about a yard of cotton. Then I auditioned colorful stips of cotton, embroidered trim and fringe until I got a look I liked. I pressed and turned the edges under, then sewed everything down. To secure it, I hid a safety pin behind where they connected for extra security. But I used leftover ties from making Native American costumes to secure the kirtle to our waists, after folding down the tops of the kirtle as in the illustrations in the book. I'm not sure what to call the ties but they are found in the hobby stores (like Michael's. Hobby Lobby, AC Moore, etc) where leatherworking kits (like mocassins) are sold. They are the ties for mocassins and the like.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Early Greek Rhetoric History Presentation

Presenting Andromache from The Iliad (that's me) and Odysseus (my son) and Penelope (my daughter) from The Odyssey. Our costumes are based on research on the Ancient Greek Myceneaen culture. A post on the costume design will be forthcoming.


 We actually studied far more than the Ancient Greeks. We also studied Ancient India, Ancient China, the Ancient Americas, as well as Hebrew history from Joshua's conquest of Canaan through David's reign of Israel.

We began with our recitations, which were recorded. My son even recorded me! That's a first! However I have to jump through hoops to figure out how to post them on this blog platform.

My recitation was of Andromache's final heart wrenching words to her husband, Hector, who was doomed to death. My son said I did okay, since I didn't get it word perfect. My daughter was next as Penelope, reciting her speech to Odysseus when he was disguised as a beggar.


Then my son did his recitation as Odysseus disguised as a beggar, telling the swineherd about his interactions with Odysseus in the Trojan War.

Then we went upstairs so my husband could retrace the journey of Odysseus and try to fare better than he did. Each locale had representative objects to make the game fun! An adventurer should always start with a map, right? These are some historic maps that were generously gifted to my son, which he leaves on this table. The maps look nice there and I thought they'd be a great start to the game. Don't they look appropriate for beginning a journey? However, I don't think cartography was a big thing in 1200BC. The maps were a perfect bit of irony to throw at my poor husband, who would have no idea where to go to next on his journey, like Odysseus who never knew where he was. I laid the scorecard I designed for the game on the table. I asked my son to get a pen for keeping score and he decided to get his fish pen! Then my daughter got some dice. After all, how much of the Adventures of Odysseus were based on wit and how much were based on fate?

Like Odysseus who wandered from island to island, looking for home, my husband had to wander throughout the house, looking for his next island assignment, retracing the journey of Odysseus. First was the Island of the Lotus Eaters (note the "Lotus Flower" on the box. The light green cards were the directions for my husband, with a brief synopsis of the events on the island. The red card contained lines fromTthe Odyssey which my kids read, of how Odysseus used his wit in that particular dilemma. By the end of the game, my husband who was not at all familiar with The Odyssey, had a basic idea of the storyline. He had a lot of fun too!


After reading what happened to Odysseus on these cards, my husband had to roll the dice to see how he would fare in the same situation. After a failed attempt at researching numbers of men in divisions, brigrades, etc, my son decided he should start with 7 ships, with 100 men each. At the beginning, my husband was thrilled, feeling invincible with this high number of crew members and ships. (Little did he know...) Roll odds and my husband would have to lose the number of men shown on the dice. My husband wasn't worried. He had far more crew member than there were dots on the dice. Once again, little did he know... (Hence the scoresheet to keep track of the numbers of crew members he had.) Roll evens and that was how many items he got to feast upon! He liked that! But he had to beware of the Lotus Flower. Every time he rolled evens (unless otherwise stated at unique island situations)we went into the kitchen where he got one of his favorite all time snacks...pistachios! He got to eat as many as the even number he rolled. He even shared with us! I reminded him to be wary of the Lotus Flower. See the flowers in the pistachio bowl? These are edible flowers I found at the grocery store Friday. The bread and herbs were there for dinner prep later and decoration at that time. I put in as many opportunities for feasts as possible, since The Iliad and The Odyssey are filled with many feasts.


The next stop was the Island of the Cyclops, where Odysseus found cheese in a cave and started eating it, which resulted in an entrapment by the owner of the cave (and cheese), the dreaded Cyclop Polyphemus, who ate Odysseus' men! The prop for this was actual feta cheese from Greece. As soon as my husband saw it his eyes lit up and he dug in before he even read the game card! The kids and I started laughing, well, I was dying laughing! When we designed the game, I told the kids he would do that! The kids kept telling him he's going to get in trouble so I finally made a monster roar. After he read the card, he ate more cheese! Typical man. I told the kids if a woman had walked into that cave she would have suspected something!


The next stop was of the Bag of Winds, which Odysseus received as a gift and took unopened, onto his ship. He was almost home to Ithaca and fell asleep in his ship, when his men decided to snoop among the treasures and opened this bag of wind That made the ship end up who knows where. When my husband picked up the card, my son opened the bag and made wind noises, then he turned on the ceiling fan! My husband loved it!


Then we went to the Island of the Laestrygonians, where my husband lost all of his ships, except the one he was on. That changed the pattern we had been following with the previous five stops on rolling odds or evens. This time there was no opportunity to feast. He rolled one die and multiplied that number by 10 to see how many men he lost! He only lost half his crew. I told my husband that the ships Odysseus had weren't as nice as this one, which came much later in history. Perhaps Odysseus' ships would have stayed afloat if they had been built like this? In reply, my husband tipped this ship over to represent it had sunk!


Next stop was meeting Circe who turned Odysseus' men into swine. Odysseus was given herbs (represented in the bowl) for protection by Hermes.

Then my husband went to the Kingdom of the Dead, down towards the basement...where we refused to follow him!


Next we went to the Island of the Sirens, so the game card was placed next to my husband's cell phone which was charging.


Then we went to the Strait (narrow passageway of water) of Messina, where the 3-fanged, six headed monster Scylla and the horrific whirlpool Charybdis, threateneded all who entered. I chose these knee walls across from each other to represent Scylla and Charybdis.


Next stop was to the Island where longhorn cattle can be found, which were forbidden to be eaten. I can't believe Longhorn Cattle are in the Odyssey! After all those years of living in Texas, can you believe we don't have a single representation of longhorn cattle? So I used the next best thing. Bluebonnets! Longhorn cattle graze near bluebonnet fields every spring in Texas! In hindsight, the kids and should have done the "Hook 'em Horns" sign and broken out into the UT Longhorn fight song while my husband read the game card. Because Odysseus' men ate Longhorn Cattle, Odysseus lost his entire crew. So did my husband! This time he rolled the die to see how many days he floated on broken remains of his ship.


Then we went to Calypso's island which was lush, so I pulled together all the plants I could. After seven years there, she built him a ship, which later got destroyed, so Odysseus floated at sea until he came to the island of Phaeacia, where he spent his first night inside of olive bushes. I pointed out the olives (just out of range of this photo) to my husband. He was laughing.


After Odysseus woke up, he went to the palace. Here is the 2011 Colonial Williamsburg calendar with a picture of the Governor's Palace! There was lots of feasting here, so my husband got to feast no matter which number he rolled. He rolled a high number so he got to eat lots more pistachios! At this point I was wishing I had made the Ambrosia Punch after all.

Finally my husband reached Ithaca! I wrote on the card, "At long last you are home! Home sweet home! NOT!" There were suitors to contend with. Athena disguised Odysseus as a beggar, adding wrinkles to his face. My husband had to roll the dice to see how many wrinkles he got. Nearby is the moisturizing cream! Hmmm, looks like he emptied it out.

Then he went to the swineherd's hut, where he got to feast. He rolled a lowly 3!

This was the town gate. On the way to town, Odysseus met Melanthius, the rude goat herd. Odysseus held back on his anger, saving it for his advantage. This game card my husband got to keep for a later time, to use for his advantage.

Next was the archery contest...represented by meat skewers.


And finally the slaughter...


Mission accomplished! Now we could have the ultimate feast! This place setting was designed by my son using various things I had in the kitchen and hutch. The blue glass beads on the napkin holder represent the sea glass made by the Phoenicians, another culture we had studied that lived north of Israel. They were famous for using Murex seashells to harvest the rich color purple and its various shades. So my son put representative sea shells at each place setting. To the right in the white rammekin I had made a bowl of seasonings topped with olive oil for dipping bread. Each place setting got one. The drink in the goblet was sparkling pomegranate juice.


At this end of the table we had the following from left to right: In the long tray from the bottom to top there were herbed pomegranate seeds full of juice, an assortment of Greek olives and herbed Greek Feta Cheese. Continuing to the right...roasted herbed and seasoned almonds, Baklava, and Lotus Flower Gourmet Salad.


At this end from left to right we had skewered marinated and roasted pork, beggar's purses (we made them from phyllo dough from Greece and gourmet herbed mushroom saute), herbed salad dressing, roasted bacon wrapped figs with goat cheese (on a long narrow Greek style boat serving dish), and rosemary bread.



During a feast there would be stories and entertainment from a singing bard around a fire. Likewise we settled for entertainment after dinner. We settled by the fireplace to listen to the kids read their literary analysis papers on The Odyssey. Since my kids had to write their papers based on an argumentative thesis statement, this provided much food for thought and after dinner conversation/debate.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Colonial Williamsburg EFT: The Amazing Trade Shop Science Race

Ah, Colonial Williamsburg, that quaint historic town tucked into the corner of Virginia in the Tidewater Region, that evokes images of the colonial era galore: gentlemen in cocked hats, ladies in fine gowns, clip clop of horses hooves, colonial architecture and gardens. Interspersed throughout the town is a wealth of historic trades with the quintessential picture sign marking their businesses, that serve the colonial shopper in a goodly manner. Need nails? Go to the blacksmith. Need bricks? The brickmaker is over yonder. Need paint? This way sir. Walking into these trades evokes a sensory experience: watching the windy bellows bring the flames to life, tromping through a muggy pit of clay to make bricks, listening to the clanging hammers flatten molten iron on the anvil, tastebuds watering at the sight of roasted cacao beans being smashed into warm oozy chocolate. Yes, Colonial Williamsburg is definitely a place to experience in multi-dimensional layers about history...and science? Yes, science! In The Amazing Trade Shop Science Race, Professor Eddie told all through two teams of contestants on the hunt for all the science they could find in the historic area!

Using the recently rebuilt Charleton Coffeehouse as a catalyst for science, the trades specifically involved in its building were featured.We have been into the trades many times. Many times our questions began with historic origins, yet through the course of discussion and observation, our discussions with the tradespeople have often times turned to science in some of the very trades that were featured in this EFT! What a fun way to reinforce scientific concepts, but through a Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trip, made affordable to Homeschoolers through Homeschool Buyer's Co-op!

We began our preparation for the EFT by reading through the historical background notes in the teacher's guide. We studied the history of coffeehouses in general, the history of the Charleton Coffeehouse specifically, and the science used by the trades that helped to rebuild the coffeehouse. Today you can tour Charleton's Coffeehouse and drink colonial chocolate (or colonial coffee or colonial tea). Colonial chocolate was made a bit differently than it is today. You can sometimes watch it being made in the Palace Kitchen, where we get to see some of the contestants from the video investigating science in the chocolate making process.

Then we did one of the activities in the teacher packet. For each trade featured in the rebuilding of the Charleton Coffeehouse, there was a description on the trade and primary source documents. The first document was of the trade in England. Then we read an advertisement in the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg for that trade. Next we looked at a colonial "encyclopedic" diagram of the trade...most notably those of the 18th century Frenchman, Diderot. Finally there was a photograph of people at work in their trade. Here is where I tested the kids by having them detail all the science they could find in the photograph. This prepared them to compare their answers to the ones the teams gave in the EFT. My kids were doing really great but I told them there were more surprises in store from when they would watch the video later.

Wednesday the kids did all the computer based activities. They watched the EFT featuring Professor Eddie. They did the on-line vote, and participated on the message board. They also did the two computer games, guided by Professor Eddie, himself! It is always so much fun to see the actual actor incorporated into the cartoon game instead of having mere cartoons. One game was to come up with the proper portion of plaster mix. I got mine correct the first time. The kids didn't enjoy this one quite as much as the next one, about a cannon.

In the Cannon Game, we were told that "The British are coming!" Their ETA was 6 minutes. Within that time frame, we had to use a simple machine to drag a cannon alllllllllllllll the way down Duke of Gloucester Street and pull the cannon into the cupola of the Capitol so the town could be defended. (Oh dear, they are depending on me for this? They must be esperate! I know my son blew this one away!) However the British have placed obstacles galore in the path. (The British have already been there?) We had a choice of using simple machines, chemical forces or other things of a scientific nature to clear the path to the Capitol. We got bonus points for designing and using compound machines. We lost points for errors. If our score dropped down to zero or if we ran out of time, we had to start all over again. It took me 3 times to do this because I either ran out of time or I got stuck. I didn't realize DOG street was so long. It just seemed to keep going and going and going. By my third attempt, the buildings became a blur and started looking the same. I quickly learned the manner of war. I resorted to burning what I could and exploded the rest which is a complete departure from my usual nature. On the third try I got the cannon to the top of the cupola with 210 points and 51 seconds to spare. Professor Eddie thought we should give it a test run. We exploded the cannon and it fell out of the cupola and blackened and dishelved Professor Eddie from head to toe. (uh oh-Time to split!)

Thursday we watched the EFT. This one was completely unique from any other we've seen. As usual, it was shot from the studio at Bruton Heights with 3 historic trades interpreters: one from the Palace Kitchen whom we've watched make chocolate in person, the Master Apprentice from the Blacksmith shop, and the director of historic trades (I think that was his title.) Unique to this EFT was Professor Eddie live from Charleton's Coffeehouse! After each segment, he'd relate the scientific concepts and trades to their applications at the Coffeehouse. He threw in a lot of comedy. After the first airing at 10am, I knew the second airing might be even better, since he was now "warmed up!" As wonderful as he was for the first airing, he was even better for the second airing at 1pm! He was funnier and made even better scientific explanations, even though I thought he did great the first time!

Between the two airings, my daughter e-mailed Professor Eddie this question. First I should mention that some of the scientific principles covered in this EFT were alloy and element. Her question was:

Dear Professor Eddie,

Which is stronger, an alloy or an elemental metal?

His reply:

Dear ________________,

There is no simple answer to your question. It depends on the elemental metal and the alloying metals in question. In some cases the elemental metal is stronger. In other cases the alloy is stronger.

Take iron for example. Elemental iron is pretty strong. But you can make it stronger and harder by alloying it with some carbon, and/or with some nickel and/or molybdenum.

But take tin. Elemental tin is pretty hard and somewhat brittle. Alloy it with copper, antimony and/or bismuth to make "plate grade" (used for dinner plates and the like) pewter and it gets tougher stronger. But alloy it with lead to make casting grade pewter (used for candlesticks, door knobs and the like) and it gets softer and weaker. But if you turn that around and start with lead, it is different. If you add tin to lead, it makes pewter which is harder and tougher than the original lead.

So it all depends, Sometimes the elemental metal is stronger. Sometimes the alloy is stronger.

Thanks for your question!
Professor Eddie

We get to go to CW a lot. I'm sure the next time we go, my kids will be thinking about more than history! Professor Eddie will be glad to know the kids will also be thinking science. As for me, I don't think I'll ever walk down Duke of Gloucester Street in quite the same way again. I'll always remember that experience of dragging that cannon down that long, long, long street!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Drive Thru History-The American Revolution

Looking for another Drive Thru History? How about one in the autumn...on the East Coast...focusing on famous sites of the American Revolution? Dave Stotts bravely endures being drenched by a giant rain cloud that follows him all over the East Coast on a hysterical historical trek to the American Revolution locations of Philadelphia, Germantown, Valley Forge, Colonial Williamsburg, the Colonial Parkway, Jamestown, Mount Vernon, Monticello, Montpelier, and Yorktown.

Several individuals are showcased, like Dolley Madison, Benedict Arnold and Pocahontas. I was actually surprised that Lafayette was not mentioned. We did see his name on a monument though! Instead, the fascinating story of Thaddeus Kosciusko was showcased. Like Lafayette, he fought for America, yet was from Europe. Also like Lafayette, he was incredibly moved by the Declaration of Independence inspiring him to help the American patriots. He was a French trained civil engineer from Poland. Much of his engineering skill is showcased at West Point and Saratoga Battlefield, both of which we got to see last autumn. (But not with Dave Stotts. Too bad he didn't come with us because we toured the sites in beautiful autumnal sunny weather!) Because of his incredible defense works in the Hudson River, West Point came to be known as the American Gibraltar. Like Lafayette, Kosciusko considered America his second home, and indeed lived in Philadelphia for part of his life. The Kosciusko House in Philadelphia is showcased in the Drive Thru History DVD. After his death, Lafayette and other notable men from the 18th century to the 21st wrote powerful words commending Kosciusko. Today you can see astatue of Kosciusko in Lafayette Park behind the White House in Washington DC.

Shipwrecked with Odysseus Because of the Lack of an Arguable Thesis

One of our huge challenges this week has been to finally tackle the elusive arguable thesis. (groan) All through high school I was told I could write. I made A's on my papers. Then I entered English 301 at San Antonio's Trinity University. The first words out of the instructor's mouth was to forget everything we learned in high school. We were going to learn how to write argumentative papers with special thesis statements formed by logical syllogisms. (gulp-The logical syllogism is another story.) In short, I labored in writing lab on a weekly basis with writing instructors who oh so patiently tried to jog my mind into arguable thoughts. For each paper we were assigned an essay to read, such as Dr. Martin Luther King's Letters from Birmingham Jail or Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience. Then we were asked to write an argument paper inspired from something from within the essay. Hmmmm, I never felt inspired. I'm not an argumentative person by nature. I tend to go with the flow and not rock the boat. How in the world was I going to form an argument from someone else's strong opinions much less attempt to teach it to my kids years later?

Certainly I gave birth to brilliance and all I had to do was tell my brilliant kids to choose a position and write an arguable thesis of their choice.

I was side-struck by a sudden ill-fated wind when a certain curriculum enticed me with the idea of  assigning my kids a literary analysis essay on The Odyssey to my kids. What initially seemed attainable suddenly became difficult, when I realized the curriculum offered no guidance at all. Lacking direcction like Odysseus, we felt lost and doomed.

Thankfully my good friend Rebecca (who is getting her doctorate at NYU in 19th century British literature) redirected our course. When I shared the details of the assignment (as given by the curriculum) to her, she said that although the curriculum assigned a literary analysis, their process was actually for a simple descriptive essay. A literary analysis, Rebecca explained, required an argument.


How does one craft an argument?

Actually it didn't take long for my daughter to quickly form an arguable thesis. She argued that Penelope instigated the trouble with the suitors. I told her that is definitely arguable. She went through the Norton anthology and started listing the evidence that she could use in her paper.

Meanwhile my son and I continued to struggle with an argument about Odysseus' whit. I realized that this would be difficult for me to help him with, since it is neither my paper nor my ideas. I knew I needed to ask him the right leading questions, to help him form his ideas.

 I have spent the week googling and downloading information from nearly 20 different colleges on how to write a literary analysis...all of which stressed the importance of a strong arguable thesis. (Why doesn't the curriculum know about an arguable thesis?)

Another idea came to me, to check the files of my IEW yahoo group. I found some hefty documents there but a quick skim led me to the words I've been looking for all my life. The key to forming an arguable thesis is to look for something in the story that left a question, a doubt, a puzzle. That is potential for an argument! That made sense! My son and I both analyze things all the time!

I asked my son if there was something about the whit of Odysseus he didn't quite agree with, or left him puzzled. He said that he never thought that Odysseus came up with all those ideas himself. Instead he took other people's advice. That is definitely arguable! I asked him if he had evident. He easily replied with an example. Okay, looks like we're on to something.

Being shipwrecked can provide lots of opportunity to learn. At least now we know how to approach future literary works more properly. While struggling with how to tackle this literary analysis, I have learned the value of literary analysis, the value of writing with an arguable thesis, and the beginnings of how to form one. This will revolutionize how we read books, literature and approach essays. I am also considering purchasing IEW's Windows to the World, which I've been told will help us through this shipwreck. Perhaps I can become as whitty as Odysseus so that I can find my way out of this latest deluge and find my way home.

And where is home? Home is our next history presentation which has been out of reach while managing the double shipwreck of pursuing the literary analysis and tying up loose ends of our history lessons. The plan was to have the unit celebration Saturday (tomorrow). Like Odysseus, life is a journey and time will tell when we arrive home.

Update-IEW's Windows to the World was indeed the best curriculum I have found to learn how to write a persuasive paper with an arguable thesis.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Colonial Williamsburg Milliner-Jacket and Gowns

Last Monday the kids and I wrapped up our Christmas break field trips with a trip down to Colonial Williamsburg. The trip had actually been planned for the week before but they got over a foot of snow! Everyone keeps telling me it doesn't snow much in Virginia but I've seen far more snow than I've been told about these last two winters! Monday was sunny and on the warmish side, in the 40's. (I can't believe I'm saying that is the warmish side but I was quite comfortable outdoors that day!) Even though we would otherwise have started our first full week back to school, that is always laborious after a 2 week break. Why not a field trip to ease into a full school load again? It worked for us!

We actually took the day in pace with the 4mph society. I had two missions to accomplish, one of which was fulfilled at the milliner shop. where I got to see this jacket which is recreated from one in the CW collection. The original is featured in Costume Close-Up.


Then we had lunch on a bench on Duke of Gloucester Street. Sunny, no was quite comfortable. Then we went to the Tucker House to see Lafayette. Wow, he arrived wearing his black cloak! We have never seen his black cloak in person. I made my son one like it and as far as I could tell, they are quite similar. Lafayette's program was great, as always!

Afterwards we returned to the Milliner Shop to visit with the other tailor! He was showing little girls' gowns to a mother and young daughter. My camera took horrible photos. The flash did not engage for some reason. This one is a sage green silk with a lovely sheer cream embroidered stomacher which is attached to the gown. There is lacing in the back of the gown.


Here is a nice red toile gown for a little girl.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Window Valence for my Daughter's Room

At long last I settled down and whipped up a floral valence for my daughter's room. I purchased the fabric a few years ago in Texas at Hobby Lobby. The ribbon I found in my ribbon stash. I didn't use a pattern. I kept it a simple 30 minute project.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Horsing Around with a Pencil Sketch

My son recently sketched this Morgan horse...