Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Hip Hip Hooray for the Aztecs!!!

Aztec scupture of figure holding a cacao pod
So there are a quite a few foods that the Aztecs are responsible for introducing to Europe - potatoes, tomatoes, beans and maize to name a few.  In my opinion though, Chocolate is the most important!! The use of chocolate in the area has been traced back to 1900 BC and it had a special role in the Aztec and Mayan cultures.  The cocoa beans were used as a form of currency and also made into a drink given mostly to warriors and royals.  The Aztec recipe for cocoa goes something like this-
1. ground cocoa, other spices and dried corn to a fine powder 2. mix this powder with cold water until frothy  3. Drink.   No sugar in the recipe so it must've been very bitter!  In 1528, when the conquistadors returned to Spain after conquering the Aztecs, they brought back the cocoa beans.  The Europeans added sugar and milk and the drink became popular among the royals and wealthy.  By 1657, the first "chocolate houses" were opened and the public could now enjoy drinking chocolate.  One of these chocolate houses made the first chocolate cake in 1674 and, years later in the 19th century, John Cadbury developed the process to make the first candy bar!!  And tonight is Halloween, when the children of America go trick -or-treating and celebrate that most wonderful of confections - CHOCOLATE!!!  Yeah for the Aztecs and Happy Halloween!!    

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pinatas and Chupacabras?

What do you get when you mix a Chupacabra and a Pinata??

You will find out soon because that was our project for the day :)
But first a little history about both - starting with the pinata.  Pinatas are fun!  The paper-mache figures full of candy and toys that young kids armed with sticks beat to a pulp - but why and where did this become a tradition?  Mexico, right?  Well, actually no.  While pinatas are most associated with Mexico, it seems that pinatas actually originated in China.  The Chinese version was used during the New Year festivities and was in the shape of an ox or cow, filled with 5 different types of seeds and painted with symbols for a prosperous crop.  In the 14th century they came to Europe and were given religious significance and used to celebrate Lent (the period of fasting right before Easter for Catholics).  The word pinata came from the Italian word "pignatta", which means "fragile pot" because the pinatas were made from decorated clay pots.  The Europeans brought the tradition with them to Mexico where it was eventually meshed with the similar Aztec tradition used to celebrate the birthday of their god Huitzilopochtli.  Eventually it lost its religious significance and use of clay pots (too many shards flying everywhere) and now is the paper-mache Elmo or whatever that we have today.  To play the pinata is filled with small candy and toys and hung over a branch from a rope.  The "hitter" is blindfolded and given a stick which he blindly swings round trying to hit the pinata.  Hopefully, he hits the pinata (and not some bystander) and the after a few whacks the candy spills out, if not the next person is up.  Fun times.  Now to make the tradition a little scarier and combine it with the elusive, mythical beast of lore - the Chupacabra!!!!!

The Chupacabra-

What, you may ask, is the Chupacabra?  No one knows for sure.  The name means "goat-sucker" and it is a mythical (some say real) animal that has reportedly been spotted in Mexico, the southern U.S., Puerto Rico and even in Russia!!  It is supposed to kill small animals (sheep, goats, etc) by sucking the blood out of them.  Kinda like a vampire, I guess.  Some "witnesses" have said it looks like half-alien/half-dinosaur with spikes down it's back.  Some say it's more like a panther or coyote with a long,forked tongue and glowing eyes.  It has a sulfur smell and a loud screech - oh, and it hops like a kangaroo!!  So in tribute to this mish-mash monster we are making our own version of it and combining it with a pinata to create the scariest, most feared pinata that ever lived -

The Chupacabra/Pinata mash-up!!

For this project you will need:
  • a pre-made pinata.  We bought ours but you can make one if you have the time and inclination.  
  • paint
  • red felt for eyes
  • fangs and whatever other stuff you want to add.   We turned a caveman necklace into back spikes.
1. Make some greenish brownish color paint by mixing some colors.  Opposite colors like blue/orange, red/green, purple/yellow will make brownish.  Paint the pinata.
2. Add some red eyes, fangs, spikes down the back and whatever else a scary monster might have.
3. Let dry overnight and you are ready to fill with candy :)

Now that's a face only a mother could love!!
Happy Halloween :)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Week 15: Mexico

Buenos Dias from Mexico!!

I let my father, who is visiting from Wisconsin, choose the country this week.  I told him whatever country he chooses we have to eat some of the native food, and since good Mexican food is scarce in WI, well, here we are.  But the more I thought about it I got excited!  It's almost Halloween so there are some scary things to learn about, like the Chupacabre (and Montezuma's Revenge if you drink the untreated water from Mexico).  Also the day after Halloween is what's known in Mexico as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.  It sounds scary but it is really a day to celebrate all the people and ancestors who have died before you.  It's a day of celebration with altars honoring the ancestors and skeleton masks and figures.  Too cool.
San Francisco has a big procession on Friday and I am debating whether or not it would be too much for the kids - we'll see.  But first, on to Mexico!  There is a lot to do in Mexico - beaches, the culturally-rich capital of Mexico City, and the ancient ruins of the Aztecs, Mayans and other civilizations that lived here long ago.  Let's start with a little history first.

Around 1000 BC, around the areas of Veracruz and Tabasco (yes, the sauce comes from there), a tribe called the Olmecs lived in large cities worshipping their Jaguar god and carving huge stone heads. No one really knows what happened but sometime around 400 BC they all disappeared!! Wow, creepy huh?  Later came a few other groups, the most well-known were the Mayans and the Aztecs.  These groups were very advanced in mathematics, astronomy, architecture and art, but also very brutal.  They ritually sacrificed humans to make their gods happy - sooooo glad I didn't live in that era!  The Aztecs were the most successful civilization with a huge capital city named Tenochtitlan that was in a lake.  It had pyramids and floating roads, aquaducts and great marketplaces.  The emperor ruled a strong government and life was good (unless you got sacrificed)- until the Europeans came that is.

In 1519, Cortez landed in Mexico with the dream of gold and riches.  He found it.  With only 400 men, 16 horses, guns, ammunition and a lot of luck he defeated the most successful empire in Mexico.  It was all a misunderstanding on the Aztecs side.  They thought that the light-skinned Spaniards were the messengers of their god Quetzacuatl and so they welcomed them into the area.  Their hospitality got the Emperor Moctezuma II, taken hostage but still he told his warriors to stand down.  They did stand down for awhile until they figured out their error, but by then it was too late.  The area of Mexico became a rich treasure for Spain and the native Indians were turned into slaves for the wealthy settlers.  Many of the indigenous people died from the new diseases brought from Europe, but those who survived waited for their chance at independence.  In 1810, while Spain was under Napolean's rule, they started a rebellion, and eventually a war, that led to their freedom from Spain in 1821.

Mexico had a few wars left to fight - with the U.S. over land, with themselves over reforms and leadership.  Unfortunately, to this day, real peace has never lasted very long.  It's a tribute to the people that they have remained the friendly, inviting people they are.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Language Lesson: Scots

The country of Scotland has 3 official languages- Scottish English, Scots, and Scottish Gaelic.  Well, Scottish Gaelic is a bit advanced for us but sounds so ancient.  Scottish English is mostly the same as any English but with different regional words spoken with a Scottish accent.  Here's a cute video with some of the common words used- You tube Scottish Alphabet.  Now Scots uses some words you'd be familiar with and many words unique to the language, it's very hard to understand, even for some who speak it, because many words chang depending on what part of the country you are in.  I found a You Tube Scots example and found it sooooo hard to understand.  Here are a few words -

brae- hill      breeks- pants     loon- boy        quine- girl       neb- nose        een-eyes           lug- ear
                                     ane leid is ne'er enough - one language is ne'er enough

Hope you had fun in Scotland!  For more Scottish fun you could watch the movie Brave when it comes out on DVD.  Haven't seen it but I'm told it's great.  Not sure where our next journey is going to be - any ideas???  Next week is Halloween so it's going to be busy (and spooky and FUN!)   Bye.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Golf in Scotland

Fore!! Golf, the sport of Scotland

Golf, everyone knows golf, the game where you hit the little ball into the little hole.  Well, I'm here to tell you a little about the origins of the game, and since we're learning about Scotland this week I bet you can guess where the game started.  Right, Scotland.  The modern version of golf was first mentioned in history in 1457 as the game "gowf".  St. Andrews Golf Club in Scotland is recognized as the "home" of golf but some people debate about even older origins of the game.  Could it be the Roman game of "paganica" where a little ball was hit with a bent stick? Sounds logical.  Or was it the Chinese game of "chuiwan" where a little ball was hit into a cup with a stick?  That sounds right too.  Or the Persian game of "chaugan", etc. etc.  One thing for certain the idea behind golf can't be tied to any one country, however the rules and methods used today ARE direct descendants to the Scottish game.  So we got ourselves an old club at the Salvation Army for $3 (still had an $89 price tag!) and some whiffle balls and practiced on our strokes in the backyard.  Let's just say we are not ready for the real game yet - GOLF IS HARD!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Loch Ness Monster

Nessie- the monster, the myth, the craft and the game

Lurking in the depths of Scotland's largest lake, Loch Ness, is a creature most mysterious.  Is it a dinosaur that has somehow survived all these years?  Is it a sea serpent?  Is it a hoax?  No one has ever given definitive proof either way.  The loch is 22 1/2 miles long, 1 1/2 miles wide and 754 feet deep and every inch of it has been searched but still no one has been able to prove what it is that people have claimed to see for years.  Most reports are that it is very long with a long neck that can come out of the water.  Most people see humps in the water that they say are it's body, while other people see a wake in the water that they think is it swimming.  There have been a few grainy pictures but pictures can be so misleading.  So the debate goes on - is Nessie real or fake?  We don't know either but we do know a good project when we see one.  Let us introduce the.................

"Sock" Ness Monster

For the project you will need:
  • one large tube sock for each monster
  • stuffing (we raided an old pillow)
  • googly eyes
  • sharpies or fabric paint
  • hot glue or regular glue and patience
  • a bent up coat hanger or wire
  • felt
1. Stuff your sock with the stuffing.  For my daughter's we added the bent up coat hanger so we could make it stand up a little.  Put some glue on the end of the sock and pinch it together.  We also twisty-tied it to keep it tight until it dried.
2. Cut out some flippers and glue them on.  We cut them out of the end of my son's sock but felt would've worked. Glue them on.
3. Glue on googly eyes and any other decorations you'd like your monster to have.  We did some triangle spikes down the back.
4.  Decorate with the sharpies and add the little details that make it your own - eyelashes and hearts, etc. etc.

Voila!! You have now seen the legendary "Sock"Ness Monster!!

The Search for Nessie - the game.

So now that you've made your monster you want to play with it right?  We played a fun game called the Search for Nessie.  One person hides Nessie (or "Sunshine" as my daughter named hers) somewhere around the house (or yard, or park) and the rest of the family races around trying to be the first to find it.  Simple and fun.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On the Menu: Scottish Food

Yes, we did, but No, we didn't.

Aaah, Scottish food.  When I said to people that we were learning about Scotland this week, EVERYONE asked me (tongue in cheek) if we were going to make haggis.  Well, yes we did. Did we make the traditional dish of sheep innards,spices,oats and suet packed into a sheeps stomach and boiled? Umm, no.  For many reasons.  That dish is probably something that you need to have grown up eating to enjoy, but the basic idea of "meat" with spices and oats cooked together sounded ok.  My friend, Stephanie O'Dea the slowcooker guru, has a hilarious post on her blog about trying to make a "real" haggis.  I learned a lesson from that post and made her Americanized version instead.  I'm sure my family is happier about that.  We also had some Cock-a-leekie soup which got a few jokes going  none of which are fit for family audiences.  And since my husband and brother have been so willing to try all the new foods (the kids had pb&j), I made some delicious Scottish shortbread for dessert!  The recipes are coming but first lets learn a little about Scottish cuisine.

Oats, sheep or lamb, fish, potatoes, onions and leeks are featured in many Scottish dishes.  With lots of rivers, streams and the ocean all around, its easy to see how fish is plentiful and easy to come by.  The sheep have plenty of green grass to fatten them up and the potatoes and onions are hearty and grow well in the climate.  Oats are the grain of choice for a hearty morning bowl of porridge and makes a tasty filler-upper.  Scotch Whisky is apparently the official drink of the country and I tell you my kids have never slept better!  Just kidding, I just wanted to see if anyone actually reads this :)  Like most of Great Britain, tea is a very popular beverage (2nd to whisky).  The names of the foods that are served in Scotland are the best! Rumbledethumps, cock-a-leekie, clapshot, and hotchpotch.  Food should be this fun!  Now the recipes for our Scottish feast.

"Americanized" Haggis

Recipe came from my friend Stephanie's blog. Her cookbook is pictured in the crock pot.  You should buy it :)
For the recipe you will need:
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground lamb
  • 1 small red onion chopped
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/2 tsp each cayenne pepper and black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pinch each of ground nutmeg, ground cloves, and ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 c beef broth
1.  Mix all the ingredients (except the broth) in a bowl. Smush to combine really well.
2. Form a ball or loaf or whatever shaped you'd like and put it in slow-cooker.
3.  Pour broth over top.  Cook on low about 7 hours or 4-5 on high.  I put mine in at 12 on low and at 4 turned it to high and it was ready to eat by 5.

I've never had the real haggis and I don't think I'm brave enough to ever try, but many people say it's actually very good.  I'll never know but I can tell you that this version IS actually very good.  My husband and brother both made faces when I broke it to them that we were having haggis but they both liked it - especially with ketchup.  It's basically meatloaf but with a different flavor from the spices.

Cock-a-leekie Soup

This is another traditional dish - different recipes had potatoes, rice or barley.  We made the barley version.
For the recipe you will need:
  • 4lbs chicken - bone in and most of skin removed
  • 10 c water
  • 1 onion chopped (I left this out because there were already so many leeks and I love my husband)
  • 1/3 c barley
  • 1 can condensed chicken broth. (I used boullion)
  • 5-7 leeks cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks celery sliced
  • fresh thyme - 1 sprig
  • fresh parsley - 1 T
  • salt and pepper to taste
1. Put chicken, water, barley and onion (if using) in a large soup pot.  Bring to boil then reduce heat to low.  Simmer one hour.
2. Remove chicken from pot and separate the meat from bones.  Return meat to pot and add broth, leeks, celery, herbs and salt and pepper.  Simmer 30 minutes until leeks are tender.

I thought for sure my husband was going to hate this soup.  I have never had leeks before and thought they were very oniony because they look like giant green onions.  And there were LOTS of leeks! Once they boiled in the soup for a few minutes they were delicious - not oniony really, almost like a celery taste.  We crumbled some crackers into our soup and really enjoyed it on a cold night.  The kids ate some of the broth with their crackers and had a sandwich. 
Because we all ate our dinner like good little Scots, I made dessert.

Scottish Shortbread

This recipe was given to me by an old friend whose mother was from Scotland.  So easy and delicious!
For the recipe you will need:
  • 1/2 lb (2 sticks) butter unsalted
  • 1/2 c sugar.  I used Splenda 
  • 2 c flour
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/4 t baking powder
1. Cream butter and sugar together.  You can use a mixer but a spoon or fork works fine too.
2. Add rest of ingredients and slowly fold it all together.  It will look totally not like dough - sort of like crumbs
3. Dump it onto pan and press it out about 1/4" thick.  See how it all came together? Poke it a few places with a fork.  It should make a rectangle about 10X12 inches -give or take.
4. Bake at 350º for about 20 minutes or until lightly golden.
5. When they come out of the over score it with a fork where you want them to separate.  When they are cooled you can just break them on the score lines.

These are flakey and delicious and buttery and YUM!!! You can incorporate all different kinds of flavors with fruit zests or different spices and they are so easy to make!

I hope you try some of these recipes and that you are enjoying the blog.  Please leave any comments you have - I'd love to hear it!!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Week 14: Scotland

Welcome to Scotland!

Ok, so next week is Halloween and we've covered mummies from Egypt, vampires from Romania, and now we're in Scotland for......the Loch Ness MONSTER!!  The most famous lake monster in the world lives (?) in Scotland's most famous lake, Loch Ness.  Along with Nessie, Scotland is also supposed to be chock full of ghosts, so it is a great place to visit for Halloween!  But we're going to learn more than that this week.  I've got some treats in store for our Scottish menu, maybe we'll play a little golf, and we'll get a little lesson about the language.  Ready?

Scotland is the second biggest country in Great Britain, lying to the north of England, it has been a part of the Empire of Great Britain since 1603, when the King of Scotland also became the King of England and united the two countries.  The country also includes 787 islands, many of which are uninhabited except by migratory birds. The capital of Scotland is Edinburgh, located on the map at 55.95ºN/3.22ºW.  Scotland is famous for its wool and wool products, tweeds, and its tartans.  Tartans are the different plaids that are used in kilts and other garments.  Each plaid (tartan) comes from a different clan (family group) from different areas of the country. Scotland is also known for kilts, which are basically  traditional skirts worn by the men.  I'm not sure why traditionally they wore skirts since the country is rather cold and blustery a lot of the time but they did. Another Scottish tradition is playing bagpipes, although, supposedly, bagpipes originally came from Central Asia!  Know another Scottish trademark that might have come from Central Asia?  Red hair!!  The gene mutation that causes red hair has recently been traced down to Asia.  Red-headed Asians are not unheard of - remember Genghis Khan from Mongolia?  He had red hair.  Coincidence? Who knows? One thing that goes with red hair is a fiery temper and judging by Scotland's motto, "No one provokes me with impunity" or "Nemo me impune lacessit" it seems that they have a bit of a temper (also like Genghis Khan) and they are proud of it.  Also, their national plant is the thistle - spiky but beautiful.  There have also been many inventions that have come out of Scotland.  A few include: the telephone, pnuematic tires, penicillin, chloroform and, not surprisingly considering the damp climate, the waterproof raincoat!  All this and their national symbol is the Unicorn!!  How cool is that?!  Everyone loves a unicorn :)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A little art and a little language

Romanian Pottery

I couldn't make our only craft for Romania be a vampire, after all that isn't even based on reality, so we did another fun craft this week - Romanian pottery.  Pottery is a traditional art form in Romania.  The most famous pottery comes from the village of Horezu.  In this town you can stroll down Olari St. (Potters' Street) and see the different styles and variations of the many families who have been making this pottery for generations.  The pottery is still shaped on old-fashioned kick wheels and are decorated with geometric, floral and animal patterns using 100% natural colors and tools such as goose feathers and cow horns.  One of the most popular motifs on the pottery is known as the Horezu Rooster and it is one that we tried to emulate on our pottery - to varying success :)

Horezu Rooster Plate

For the project you will need:
  • plate (we got a glass one from the dollar store)
  • regular acrylic paints if painting on back side of glass plate only.  If you have a regular paint - make sure your paints are food safe.  Or maybe use sharpies?
  • a drawing of the Horezu rooster or any other drawing for that matter.  It's your plate - go nuts!
1. Clean plate and get any sticker residue off.
2. Tape picture on front of plate, face down so that when you turn it over you see the design.
3. Paint away.  I helped my son with the rooster but he did a nice swirly design around the outside.  My daughter did the whole thing- including drawing the rooster.

Above and right is the plate done by my daughter.
<<This one was done by my son and I :) 
Both plates are pictured sitting on top of our normal white dinner plates.  I think they would make really cute additions to any china cabinet.

Now to learn a little Romanian.

Romanian is what they consider a "Romance Language", I'm not quite sure what that means and, frankly, I don't have time right now to find out because I'm super-behind in getting this post out. :)  Anyway, some of the other "romance languages" are French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.  When you see some of the phrases in Romanian you will see some similarities to these languages.  Originally descended from Latin, the language came to the area with the Romans, but over time was influenced by the Slavic languages.  There are about 4 different dialects but the one spoken most often in Romania is "Daco-Romanian".  Here are a few phrases to get you going-
Hello - salut       How are you? - Ce mai faci?   Thank you - mersi
You're welcome- su placere   I love you - te iubesc
and because I love YOU I am giving you a bonus phrase!!
Vehicolul meu pe perna de aer e plin cu tipari. 
Which means My Hovercraft is full of eels.  You never know when that might come in handy huh?  Have a great weekend and may your hovercraft never be full of eels :) 

Friday, October 19, 2012

On the Menu: Romanian Food

A little of this, a little of that...

When I looked at the Romanian recipes I noticed something.  Most of the recipes sounded vaguely like other recipes I'd seen before.  The more I read about Romanian food the more I understood why.  Over the course of history Romania has been occupied by many other countries.  Turkey, Hungary, Austria, Poland, and Russia have all influenced the food of the country - not to mention immigrants from other countries who have settled in the area.  They like to say that it gives their food a uniqueness because they took a little of this cuisine and a little of that and blended it into their own.

Many of the dishes are prepared using the age old cooking techniques and family recipes that have been passed down for generations.  Do they eat like this everyday?  Probably not, I'm sure in the big towns they have pizza and burgers when they've had a long day.  But when there's a big occasion or a guest comes to town they have some great traditional recipes to break out!

A "traditional" Romanian meal would usually include some or all of these courses. 
  • An appetizer-usually fresh cheeses, cold cuts or vegetable spreads
  • soup
  • fish - maybe grilled Black Sea sturgeon or herring
  • meat entree - stuffed cabbage leaves (sarmale), stew or handmade sausages they call "wee ones"
  • desserts like stuffed crepes or sweet breads
Feeling full? I found some good resources for recipes online at Home Cooking in Montana and We made the sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls) and I know after my plateful of pork and sour cabbage cooked in a tomato sauce I sure was full! I couldn't even imagine eating all that other food!

Sarmale (Stuffed cabbage rolls)

This recipe is a compilation of many I found on the internet
For the recipe you will need:
  • 2-3 lbs ground pork
  • 1/2 cup long grain rice
  • 1 onion chopped
  • fresh parsley
  • fresh dill
  • 2 cans condensed tomato soup
  • 1 12oz can tomato juice
  • 2 med. heads of cabbage (cut out core)
  • 1 large jar of sauerkraut
  • bacon
1. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and plop a cabbage into it.  As the leaves begin to come separate take them out of water and place in large bowl. Repeat with other cabbage until you have a whole bunch of leaves.  Pour sauerkraut and juice over the leaves and let sit for awhile.  The traditional recipe calls for "sour cabbage" which is like sauerkraut but a whole head instead of shredded.  This was the closest thing I could think of.
2. In large bowl add pork, onion, rice, a little sauerkraut, some chopped dill (1/2 cup maybe?) and chopped parsley(same amount as dill).  Mix well.
3. Shake off the sauerkraut from the cabbage leaves and place in the bottom of a high-sided roasting pan.
4.  Take a cabbage leaf (cut in half if very large) and put 2 T of meat mixture in center and roll up to form little package. Place on top of sauerkraut.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.
5.  Put strips of bacon on top of first layer and finish the next layer.
6.  Pour tomato juice and soup over top of rolls.  They should be covered.  Add another few strips of bacon on top (.I didn't but wish I did)
7.  Cover with foil or lid and bake covered for 2 hours and then uncovered for 2 more hours.

This was something I've never made before so I'm not sure if I did it right, I know I made them bigger than they should be because I was in a rush to get them in the oven for 4 hours!  
These would probably be really good in a crockpot.  The adults liked them - the dill and sauerkraut gave them an interesting taste- different but good. The kids wanted nothing to do with them.  I think their cultural curiosity doesn't go as far as cabbage rolls.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Vlad the Impaler : the man behind the myth.

The Real Dracula

The region of Transylvania is beautiful.  The Carpathian mountains, rivers, forests, etc., but that's not why it's world famous.  It is famous, or infamous, for being the home of the legendary Dracula.  And it was, but not the Dracula you are thinking about.  The real Dracula was a Wallachian prince, named Vlad III, who ruled from 1456 - 1462.  He and his father, Vlad II, were members of the Order of the Dragon, which was a group with the mission to protect Christianity in Eastern Europe against the Ottoman Empire's Islamic rule.  The Romanian word for Dragom is "dracul" and the elder Vlad was known as Vlad Dracul.  The younger Vlad was Dracula.  When his father was given the throne of Wallachia, young Vlad and his brother Radu were taken as hostages by the Ottomans to assure the father's loyalty.  Vlad became very angry (rightfully so) with the Ottomans and would fight them the rest of his life but his brother joined the Ottomans and became one of his brother's own enemies!  I'm surprised THIS stuff isn't a movie!  Vlad III eventually took the throne of Wallachia, and while he was fair to his own people, he was a cruel executioner and torturer of his enemies.  He became known as Vlad the Impaler because impaling people was his favorite form of punishment.  Sweet guy, huh?  Anyway, there is no record of his turning into a bat, or sleeping in a coffin.  I'm sure he could stand in the sun or eat garlic.  All that was made up by an Irish author, Bram Stoker, who wrote the novel Dracula.  His novel forever changed the meaning of the word Dracula and the tourist industry in Transylvania.  Today, Bran Castle, the supposed home of Dracula in the book, is one of the most visited places in Transylvania.  Do the people of Romania mind? They might a little, but if it brings some tourists to the area they can deal with it :)  So in honor of Vlad III, aka Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula we made a vampire craft.  It's also Halloween in 2 weeks so it works out!

Vampire Candy Holder craft

For this spooky project you will need:
  • empty gallon milk jug
  • scissors
  • sharpie
  • acrylic paints and brushes
  • spray paint (optional)
  • candy
1. Clean out jug and dry it.
2. Draw mouth and eyes .
3.  Using scissors, cut out mouth.Don't forget to make some fangs!!
4. Paint whole things white with acrylic or spray paint. Let dry.
5. Leave white or tape off eyes and fangs and spray purple or green.

6. Use the acrylics and small brushes to add the details.  Spooky eyes, red lips, black hair, maybe a little blood - let the kids have fun alone or help them with the ideas.
 Add candy and make up a little sign that says
"Take one -  IF YOU DARE!"

Monday, October 15, 2012

Week 13: Romania

Romania :  Land of Beauty or Vampires?

Well, when I picked Romania it was because that is where Transylvania is, and everyone knows Dracula is from Transylvania, right?  Well, actually not really.  Turns out that the mythical beasts that roam the Transylvanian countryside aren't really to be found in Romania, but a lot of rich history and an interesting culture is easy to find. 

 Located in southeastern/central Europe, Romania is an area that has been inhabited since before 500 BC (the numbers varied), the capital city of Bucharest was begun in the 15th century, so there is a long, complicated history to be told.  The oldest recorded people living in present-day Romania were the Dacians, fierce warriors who ruled the area until about 100 AD.  They were conquered by the Romans, who acquired the area because of its plentiful gold and other minerals.  Their rule brought many colonists from other countries and when the Roman Empire left the area many other groups tried to take over, with the Ottoman Empire finally winning and ruling until 1877.  The 3 major areas of Romania, Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania, were principalities until the end of World War I, when they united to become the country of Romania.  After World War II, in which many Romanians died, the country was taken control of by the Soviet Union and became a socialist republic.  In 1989, as the Soviet Empire was being broken up, a revolution took place in Romania and the country broke free of communism and started towards the democratic country it is today.

It is a country that still hold on to its traditions while embracing the future and the people are very proud of their culture and folk art.  Different regions are famous for different aspects of the folk art, such as embroidery or wood carvings, but the biggest draw to Romania and its most visited tourist attractions is still Bran Castle in Transylvania - home to Bram Stoker's Dracula!!  Tomorrow we will learn about the man behind the myth...... 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Architecture of Egypt

The Pyramids of Egypt (and our house)

The pyramids of Egypt are world famous, as well they should be.  They were built about 5,000 years ago, before cranes, dump trucks, and the modern equipment of today.  Unlike many of the buildings built today, however, they were built to last!  It is estimated that some of the larger pyramids used up to 100,000 workers to build - and most of that was slave labor.  The more elaborate tombs were built for the Pharaohs.  The most famous pyramids, and the largest pyramid, the Pyramid of Khufu, are in Giza, near Cairo.  The architect Imhotep came up with the idea of the pyramid.  Before that people were buried in "mastabas", which were described as "bench-like".  Imhotep stacked the mastabas and gradually made them smaller as they rose.  This was supposed to symbolize a great staircase for the soul to get to the heavens.  The pyramids held the mummified remains of the Pharaoh, their favorite items or pets, and many other treasures, foods and items that were going to be needed in the afterlife.  Because they were so full of gold and treasure, many of these tombs have been raided and looted.  Many have been buried deep in the sands of Egypt and are still being discovered to this day.  Amazing to think of the treasures that are waiting to be discovered. 

The Great Pyramid of Evanchik

We took a cue from good old Imhotep and tried our hand at building a pyramid.......out of sugar cubes!

For the project you will need:
  • sugar cubes.  1 box.
That's it.  We made our pyramid starting with 8 cubes across on 4 sides.  We took one away with each level and we had a good time building it.  I thought this was a great math lesson, a good lesson in architecture and a great excuse to eat some sugar cubes.
Sugar cubes made a pretty good building material :)  Now I'm thinking what else we can use them for......hmmm, the Parthenon? the Great Wall?