Category Archives: Hands on Learning

Gimme Some Skin!

Our skin is a busy place. Feeling the touch of the world around us, sloughing off dead skin, building new, sweating, growing hair, keeping things in a sealed space. And don’t forget goosebumps! Take a ride through the layers of the skin and then come back to check out our attempt at a model of the skin with, what else? Jello and Marshmallows!

Some of these models can be TOO REAL. There’s the subcutaneous tissue (represented by the marshmallows (fat!)), the dermis, (Jello) and of course, the surface layer of skin, the epidermis, represented by a fruit roll up (what is the deal with the printed faces on the Roll ups? Is that NEW?!) The finale was putting in the little wire hairs –  it kind of made us queasy. But we get the point now. We will never look at skin the same again! And that is the ‘skin’ny on skin!


Branching Out…

Things are really turning around over here!

Inspired by Olive’s pot-making,  I decided to try a little something new, the lathe! Some of my first projects included: pens and small japanese-like kokeshi dolls… But my new favorite are these mini vases, all of which are less than 4 inches tall! So far I’ve turned many different woods like: cherry, pine, teak, black walnut, redwood and my personal favorite which is made of many types of wood glued together. I’m trying new kinds of wood, both hard and soft, to get an understanding of how each turns and finishes differently. So far, I loved the teak and pine – they cut easily and finish cleanly.  Black walnut has had an unexpected ‘flicker’ in the wood once it is polished. That is COOL! I have been using beeswax as my final coat which makes them smooth and incredible to the touch. Wood has never felt so GOOD!

They are tiny enough to put small bunches of dried flowers, twigs or other natural bits of joy in them. I’m thinking a bowl might be my next project – stay tuned!!

As an aside, for one of my assignments, I researched soft and hard wood. I’ve included the overview of the soft woods on this post. I’ll never look at trees the same again!




Saving Marine Mammals

Over Thanksgiving, we journeyed out to the San Fransico area to visit some friends and get out into the field to learn more about marine life at the ocean. We are so close to Lake Michigan that it was fun to see the differences between salt and fresh water and of course the size difference of 2 bodies of water.

Introducing: The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. A place where they rescue, rehabilitate and have a positive affect on conservation of oceans and marine life through research and education.

When we first came through the doors we saw a fun little exhibit full of skins, little skeletons and… garbage. Not because the people that come in are messy, but because that’s what they’ve collected from the animals that they save. We were surprised at how large a full sized elephant seal sculpture was. I hadn’t considered how terrifying it would be to see a live group of these tremendous mammals. They are HUGE!

We quietly walked up some stairs to see the rehabilitation center. There were only about 12 seals there then, but we could only see 2 from the observation platform. April is their (sadly) busy season and they have had up to 300+ seals and other marine animals in their care at one time! It takes a TON of work and loads of fish to feed and rehabilitate these little friends.  We saw the kitchen where they prepare all the food, a research lab, and my Mom went to check out the autopsy area, where they research animals after they have died. Thankfully, there was nothing there to see at that time!! WHEW!

After leaving the center, we walked down to Rodeo Beach and spent time looking at the most INCREDIBLE pebble beach and hoards of surfers. We spent much of our time looking for small, red, translucent stones that Native American folklore says if buried along with a wish it will bring you good luck! We did find a few and they are very special. They are HARD to find, but we think we are pretty lucky anyway.



The Water Street Prosthetic Lab!

Sadly, in the last of couple years, the dolls of Water Street have been losing limbs like hands or even heads due to casualties of fun or an attempted playdate with our dog, which has resulted in a bigger than desired group of dolls without arms, feet, legs and hands. It is time for them to regain their full ability as role playing friends. It’s time to turn their disabilities into SUPER abilities!

The dolls of choice were Batgirl, whose arm popped off moments after she emerged from her packaging. The tricky part was attaching it because it broke at the elbow joint and there was still a plastic piece left inside. More on that in a minute. The second doll was an already repainted/modified Bratz doll, named Kimberly, who lost 2 fingers in a dog attack (though it looked like more…).

We used a program called Sketchup! on the computer to create the designs and interfaces we would then print on the Maker Bot. Before we made anything we needed to access the tools we could use. (most of them are listed below) Then we began measuring and writing… we used calipers to measure the teeny stuff so we were sure it would fit correctly. Then we chose an appendage to make: Olive chose a Bob’s Pizzeria box and a hand saw and I chose a large hook and a over-size sword to make…

TO THE COMPUTER!!! after a lot of extruding, re-learning how to measure on that program and getting some critical intellect, we were ready to send it off to the Maker-bot! After a suspenseful night sleep, we went out to the lab to find some printer and part errors: Olive’s pizza box was too thin at the bottom so it looked like a bunch of string and my sword’s cuff was too chunky and short. So we went back to the computer to make modifications on the designs, hit print, and after about 7 hours of waiting – it worked!! The new prosthetics fit tightly  and now Batgirl can cut vegetables with more grace and ease, deliver Bob’s Pizza at a moment’s notice and Kimberly is now continuing her career as a pirate! Arrgh!



Bitter Sweet, Honey…

A trip out to our hive in late October to feed our bees resulted in an unexpected surprise… Stillness.  The bees were gone.

Unfortunately, we don’t exactly know what happened or why they absconded so late in the season. No sign of mold, or mites. Healthy duroung our last check 3 weeks before with our bee mentor, Sam, but sappily (sad+happy) they left us a yummy treat for the first time since beekeeping… honey! On the far side of the hive there were a few frames of perfectly capped honey. LET PRODUCTION BEGIN!!!

We began our low level harvest by sourcing lots of towels, trays, clips, cheese cloth and bowls from the kitchen of wonder. Before we began extracting the honey, mum thought it was a grand idea to weigh the frames before and after the honey was harvested and most of them were a whopping 7+ pounds each! Now the tricky part – By balancing the frame in a bowl and using a sharp knife to take off the caps on the honey ( which took 4 people and a dog to do) we managed to get clear the frames of both honey and comb. Had we had a full super of honey, we have a centrifuge that would have extracted only the honey and left the comb for the next year, but because we had only a small amount to get, this was the next best way. After separating the wax from the honey using a overnight process called patience and a cheescloth lined bowl, we weighed only the honey and found we had about 17 lbs! Sounds like a lot, but we use our neighor’s land for the hives in exchange for honey that we have never gotten so far with all the hive issues we have encountered over the past 2 seasons. After sharing some with them and a few friends and family, we have a small stash to enjoy through the winter.

We let the honey sit for a few days for the bubbles to setttle out and in that time, Mom made a label for the jars we soon filled. So much fun and hard to ‘bee’lieve all the work that the bees put into making that sweet and sticky substance we love so much!


In this frame you can see uncapped honey that we did NOT harvest with 2 worker bees frozen in time.
This was another frame. You can see baby brood (bees) have partially chewed their way out. This is the stillness we mentioned. Everything looks fine, but all the bees are dead.
This is one of the frames we harvested the honey from. No brood and freshly capped honey.


Perfectly wax-capped honey.
Wax comb and honey taken from the frame. This is what we filtered through the cheesecloth.


Freshly bottled honey. A bitter sweet harvest for sure!


Brownie Time!

We’re in luck! You may remember our Kitchen Chemistry experiments we posted throughout last year and now MIT’s Open CourseWare, program is offering an Advanced Kitchen Chemistry class! We will be using this as one aspect of our science/chemistry curriculum again this year and we couldn’t wait to get started. Enter….Brownies. Yes, brownies!

Before we started cooking we had to answer some questions, the first was: What is the  difference between cake flour, bread flour and all-purpose flour? The primary difference is the protein content which becomes gluten. Cake flour has the least amount of protein, (about 8%) while all-purpose has somewhere around 10-11%. finally, bread flour has the most protein AND it’s got a very fine texture. When your making cakes, you would want a flour that’s lower in protein.

Here’s the next question: What are the health benefits of chocolate? In milk and dark chocolate, it can give protection from disease-causing free radicals, potential cancer prevention (says the cocoa plants), improved heart health, good for overall cholesterol profile, better cognitive function, blood pressure\ blood sugar aid, and a SUPERFOOD!!! (which not much of this matters when people are adding piles of sugar on top!)

Next: What are the types of chocolate? SO MANY!!! Unsweetened, bittersweet, semisweet, milk, dark, sweet baking, unsweetened cocoa, white, pre-melted, candy coating, mexican (my personal fav!) and so much more!

Ever wonder why we crave chocolate? We learned about that in DEATH BY CHOCOLATE! an earlier post. Check it out here.

And finally: If you were optimizing the brownie recipe, what things would you examine? We decided the short answer is the type of flour, the amout of chocolate and the quantity of eggs.


We loved baking these little treats! They were cakey and delicious, but too airy for us to call them brownies. This is where the optimization of ingredients begins. Today, we will alter the contents and see if we can create the perfect brownie for us! To be clear, nothing wrong with chocolate cake, but we were striving for a true brownie. :0)

Pots and Pizza…

It was raku day again at Jeff’s studio. The sun had finally come out after what seemed like a week of solid, steady rain. No better time to eat! Just before the pots were removed from the kiln, we began making PIZZAS! Street taco sized tortillas, sauce and cheese, we placed them into the kiln once the pots were removed, for a late morning snack. Minutes later, the bottoms were crisp, the cheese melted and our treats ready to eat. We let them cool while we checked on the pottery pieces, now covered in sawdust. 3 cheers were given by potters and just like that, they were gone!

Oh, the things you can do with a kiln! :0)