Saturday, October 29, 2005

Dutch Blitz

I warned you there would be more about the PA German culture, didn't I? Well, this game was apparently invented by a German Immigrant from PA Dutch country. As advertised, Dutch Blitz is "A vonderful gut game".

The neat thing about the game is that everyone plays at once, together, but alone. Hard to explain without going through all the rules. Basically there are various piles (some just for you and some that everyone is playing on) and the cards have many rules as to how they move between them . The object is too play all the cards in your Blitz pile. Upon accomplishing this you yell "Blitz".  If you make a mistake while playing, you yell "Dutch" and stop play in order to correct the mistake.

My 10 year old daughter was interested in it because of the PA Dutch connection.  I remembered enough about the game to know that it would be a good game to work on some logic, strategy and especially speed. We had a friend of hers visiting this weekend and although both girls picked it up without a problem, my daughter's lack of speed and perserverance in concentration were her downfall.  But actually the game is just easy enough to understand that you want to keep playing even if you lose. It is sort of addictive even, the three of us played for at least an hour this afternoon.  She is sticking with it and getting faster at figuring out how to move her cards.

I am hoping these kinds of activities will translate over into math. Even if they don't, it is a fun family game that almost everyone can play. It is on sale this week at Board Games Express. (I am not affiliated with them, just thought if anyone was interested they might like to know where to buy it.)

Any other great games we should know about? What are your favorites?

Friday, October 28, 2005


The name of this shop isn't the most imaginative. I thought it might be better if at least it was Formagge! But, this way they are not confusing anyone. Last night at dinner we served blue cheese dressing with the salad. One of the children remarked that blue cheese had mold in it. Another child cried "ewww!" Today, after some work was completed in the morning and feeling as though we all needed a walk, I remembered that a cheese shop had opened in Phoenixville this month. "Perfect," I thought, "we will take a walk to the cheese shop and buy some real blue cheese!"

When we walked in I realized that we could eat our way through Europe in cheese. How expensive. But, food is a necessary part of life, so I spent a little more than I usually do for cheese and supported a new business. Let me tell you, you do get what you pay for. Actually, you get more than you pay for in this case. The owner knows how to win customers. He compliments the children on their behavior, and then gives them a bag of Asher's nonparells as a reward. Later on the woman in the shop (his wife?) gives me some day old bread (still very yummy) free of charge. They were so friendly and answered our questions (do you know that they used to put grape leaf ash on cheese to preserve it? - now it is more for show). Each cheese in the case had a little pin stuck in it with a sign that told you about the cheese. We bought some stuffed grape leaves as well. (Most of those were eaten on the walk home.)

After a little lunch, we placed the cheese on plates and served it with little squares of the yummy bread we got. I looked up the cheese on the internet, talked about where it came from and if anything special was done to make it (pressing, soaking in brine, etc). After reading about a cheese we would try a piece. The blue cheese from France was creamy but still a little strong for the children. Most of them really liked the Applewood Cheddar from England and the Gruyere from Switzerland. A few liked the Gouda and the Manchego (from La Mancha, does the literary reference to Don Quixote count as English?) We looked up the countries where the cheese was from on a map.

So, I think our little cheese excursion besides being a nice fall walk and providing some delicious nourishment also touched on a bit of geography, science and if I stretch it, literature. It also gave us a great excuse to invite two of our favorite neighbors over for dinner and a cheese tasting. (And also be reminded by the husband of the famous "This is a cheese shop?" skit.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Local Culture

I've blogged about Amish culture before. And, I'm not sure why, but it looks like we'll be spinning a web around PA German Culture this year, including the Amish.

Last week we visited the Quilt Museum and Heritage Museum in downtown Lancaster (more specifics in November's E-zine). Growing up in that area, with a mom who was raised "plain" and friends who were Mennonite, I had acquired some knowledge about PA German culture and language. I don't have the accent, but I do have the melody and sometimes I still end sentences strange vonct. But after attending the program with my kids, I was really intriqued by how much I didn't know. It is kind of like that cashier or bank teller you see every week (okay, with ATM and self-checkouts this may not be a good analogy, but that's another blog). There is a familiarity and comfort level there, but if you ever actually get into a conversation, you find out they are much more complex and interesting than you imagined.

All kinds of things are catching my eye (fractur, springerle, the belsnickle, quilts, coverlets, scherenschnitte). The web is being woven and as always the best way to catch my children in its threads is to bait it with a little food. You know, those PA Germans really do know how to bake. Central Market in downtown Lancaster is a good place to start. But, making Grace Hostetter's Apple Crumb Pie is an authentic bit of PA German culture you can bake right in your own kitchen.

5-7 Tart Apples (Rome Beauty preferred)
1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon and 2 tsp potato starch (or use corn starch)

Crumbs: 1/2 c sugar, 3/4 c. flour, 1/3 c butter (nope, not margarine!)
Crust: 1 1/2 c flour, 1/2 c Crisco, 1/2 tsp salt, 7 TBSP cold water

Cut the crust ingredients together until the mixture is pea sized balls. Add water until flour forms into a dough. But just enough, just until it holds together. Roll out dough on floured surgace and place in pie pan. Trim and pinch edges to crimp.

Cut crumb ingredients together until mixture forms small lumps. Peel, core and slice apples into crust. Sprinkle Cinnamon/sugar/starch over. Pour crumbs on top - carefully.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45- 60 minutes until crumbs are brown and apples are softened. (Sorry, you just have to judge it yourself.)

Go ahead, have another piece, it is good for breakfast too.

I'm planning on arranging a little trip to the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center in November to see their fractur, look for details in the November E-zine email.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Scottish Poetry

Have I blogged about Highland Dancing yet? My children just started taking it in September. They are having a lot of fun and getting quite a good cardio workout. One website about highland dancing emphasizes that jumping has more good health affects than other cardio workouts. Who knew? A quick link - if you have never heard of Scottish Highland dance click here.

So this morning was our latest little venture down one of the strands of Scotland.
Scotland leads to Scottish Highland Dance and the Highland Fling which leads to kilts and how to make one and what a tartan is which leads to a website that lets you design your own tartan and then finally onto a Scottish poem by Alice Macdonnel of Keppoch:

The Weaving of the Tartan

I saw an old Dame weaving,
Weaving, weaving
I saw an old Dame weaving,
A web of tartan fine.
"Sing high," she said, "sing low," she said,
"Wild torrent to the sea,
That saw my exiled bairnies torn,
In sorrow far frae me.

And warp well the long threads,
The bright threads, the strong threads;
Woof well the cross threads,
To make the colours shine."
She wove in red for every deed,
Of valour done for Scotia's need:
She wove in green, the laurel's sheen,
In memory of her glorious dead.

She spake of Alma's steep incline,
The desert march, the "thin red line,"
Of how it fired the blood and stirred the heart,
Where'er a bairn of hers took part.
"'Tis for the gallant lads," she said,
"Who wear the kilt and tartan plaid:
'Tis for the winsome lasses too,
Just like my dainty bells of blue.

So weave well the bright threads,
The red threads, the green threads;
Woof well the strong threads
That bind their hearts to mine."
I saw an old Dame sighing,
Sighing, sighing;
I saw an old Dame sighing,
Beside a lonely glen.

"Sing high," she said, "sing low," she said,
Wild tempests to the sea,
The wailing of the pibroch's note,
That bade farewell to me.
And wae fa' the red deer,
The swift deer, the strong deer,
Wae fa' the cursed deer,
That take the place o' men."

Where'er a noble deed is wrought,
Where'er the brightest realms of thought,
The artists' skill, the martial thrill,
Be sure to Scotia's land is wed.
She casts the glamour of her name,
O'er Britain's throne and statesman's fame;
From distant lands 'neath foreign names,
Some brilliant son his birthright claims.

For ah! - she has reared them amid tempests,
And cradled them in snow,
To give the Scottish arms their strength,
Their hearts a kindly glow.
So weave well the bright threads,
The red threads, the green threads.
Woof well the strong threads
That bind their hearts to thine.

Take a look at the Scottish Psalm 23 under songs as well.

Check out lesson plans on this website about Scottish Poetry Day.
Fair thee well, lads and lassies!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Feynman unit study, maybe?

Do you think unit studies are only for elementary age children? Well, here's one to challenge you that I just came up with. A unit study on Nobel Prize winning Physicist Richard Feynman.

My first introduction to Feynman was through a book called "Tuva or Bust" written by Ralph Leighton. It tells of the story of Feynman and Leighton's attempt to visit Tuva. Leighton's depiction of Feynman was intriquing. The man was obviously brilliant, but more importantly interested in everything and full of great questions. I don't share his worldview as a scientific rationalist, but I think his wonder and interest in Creation (he would say Nature) is admirable and worth imitation.

Without giving you an entire biography on Feynman let me point out some of the possible topics you could explore, all related to him:
I'll leave you with this quote from Feynmann, from his lecture to science teachers:
You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.
~Richard Feynman

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