I happen to love and collect many things, but my favorite collection by far are my shells and rocks! If we go on a trip, I’ll always come back home with a mini collection of shells and stones which is then added to the ultimate collection facility. (It’s really just a box, but its piled high so it sounds far more impressive when I say, “Oh yes, these are going directly into my collection facility for processing!”).
So! As a research project that connected to our geology focus, I was given the task of identifying the biological classification of shells along with many other details about them. For things that I love so much, I was surprised how much there was to learn about them. Here was my project brief:
Some of the shells were easier than others to identify. Online can be such a strange place to get information… I know it’s out there, but finding it can be a challenge. This fella had a super great video that helped me on my hunt for information! It’s a 35 minute video, but super interesting.
This great website that talks about Biodiversity and Evolutionary Trees – a perfect resource to get a 3D look at shells you might have. So, I won’t go into a ton more detail and instead post images of some of my shells and the final charts with a ton of impressive information! Olive and I are trying to convince our parents to take us to Sanibel Island – the home of what else?? SHELLING!
Weather is changing here in West Michigan…winds are picking up and skies are shifting and we’re drawn to start baking and making cups of hot cider! Speaking of baking, ever wonder where your flour came from back before there were automated manufacturers? Well, one example would be the windmill, which was first used in 18th Century Holland! Here in West Michigan, we have the only working dutch windmill in the entire country – and its roughly about 250 years old!
In 1964, the windmill (or the De Zwaan ) was moved to America by boat, just before a law was passed that windmills were no longer allowed to leave the Netherlands, so the purchase was the last one ever made. The De Zwaan (the Swan) came in 4 pieces which were then reassembled in Holland, Michigan, standing 125′ tall, where it still stands today! Part of the agreement with the Dutch government was that it remain a working windmill and be open to the public to teach about Dutch history and the was of the mill. On windy days when the temperature is right, De Zwaan’s own miller, Alisa Crawford can still be found milling wheat into flour where people can purchase it online or when visiting Windmill Island. Alisa is the first Dutch-certified miller outside of the Netherlands as well as becoming the first woman admitted into the guild! So cool!
Of course, we were excited that they offer guided tours through all levels of the windmill. It is amazing how old it is, and that it is actually someone’s workplace. It reminded us how ingenious humans are to come up with the idea of using wind for power….. we knew all about turbines that create electricity, but hadn’t considered wind as a way to make grains. If you’re ever in Holland, Michigan, be sure to check out Windmill Island! You won’t be disappointed!! :0)
One of the ways we started off our school year was by touring the research space of Fresh Press Studio, co-founded and run by Eric Benson, Chair of the University of Illinois Graphic Design program. They are making paper using unused agricultural remains. Eating soybeans? They are using the ‘extra’ parts of the plant that humans or animals do not consume, currently harvested from the Student Sustainable Farm on campus.
While we were there, we toured some of the spaces that included the custom machines (many of them are hand fabricated by David Reina in New York!) that are used to grind, flatten and squeeze the dried plants into paper. Some of the research they’re doing is to help preserve books better – if you leave regular paper in the sun it will yellow and over time, decay. So they’re finding ways to create a more sturdy and sustainable paper. One of the things that was pointed out while we were there is that it would more environmentally friendly if we did make paper in this way because trees are useful for many different things besides paper (such as oxygen, habitats and food) all of which, are very necessary. We ended up getting some paper from their reject drawer which we used later on to make some really pretty water color paintings (which y’all will hear about in further detail in a future post!).
The studio works with the engineering lab to determine the tensile strength of many of fiber combinations they use and they document the recipes of each batch they make. Different plant properties are used for different purposing. Eric showed us paper made from soybean plants, eggplants, coffee bits, wheat, peppers, prairie grass and rye fibers which were the strongest of all… They are always experimenting! We were gifted a sample of one of their batches of fiber to make our own paper here at school. We will surely share out what we learn once we get all the needed supplies to make it!
We loved this place. It was really cool to see how far a sustainable perspective can influence a manufacturing process. Just when a farm thinks the crop is harvested, there is more that can be done to keep our earth happy!
A big thank you to Eric for having us as guests to the research Studio. It was super interesting and we can hardly wait to make some of our own!
After 7 months of hatching, choosing, feeding, watering, coop building, holding, singing, walking, admiring and loving our small flock of chickens, the first eggs have been laid! They are tiny and absolutely perfect!! We are so proud of our little hens and lucky to have them as part of our family. We love our feathered friends!
Imagine this…. 500 carrier pigeons in one place. Near a corn field. Raised and raced by a lovely man by the name of Reed. Now imagine that once they are born in that location, they will forever be able to find their way back after they are about 6 weeks old. Drive the one of the birds south to Georgia 600 miles and once released, it will appear in that same backyard in Michigan where it hatched. Crazy, right?
We had the lucky chance to visit this magical place! While we were there, we saw hundreds of birds both flying and in very spacious houses, experienced holding birds that were born that day to pigeons that were adults! It was soooo cool! We also watched Reed put bands on the freshly hatched chicks (5 days old) that will stay on their leg permanently. Any older and the bands wouldn’t fit. Before we left that peaceful place, we took a pit stop in his garage to see some racing birds that evidently can do some pretty cool flips and dives in the air!
How do they bring messages back and forth, you ask? Well, they only fly home, not back and forth. We learned that carrier pigeons were exchanged in boxes long ago (and can still be used this way today if you don’t have email ;0) ) between 2 people or communities. Each person would take the other persons bird(s) home with them and wait until they needed to send a message. Then they would attach a message to its leg and release the bird and, you guessed it, home it flew – to it’s original birth place. It really is INCREDIBLE!
A special thank you to Reed for sharing his lifelong hobby of raising carrier pigeons. For a family of birders this was a super exciting opportunity we won’t forget!!
This summer we found a hidden gem by the name of Summerhouse Lavender Farm in Fennville, Michigan. What a beautiful place! We missed the summer harvest but were fortunate enough to have the owners, Carol and Dan take us on a tour of their Japanese inspired farm. They showed us how they harvest lavender and shared the process once the flowers made it to the drying barn. We now know how to make lavender simple syrup and they gave us ideas on how to incorporate lavender into baking! We are excited to try it :0)
As we completed the tour, Dan shared how they distill the lavender into oil. We were AMAZED how many flowers it takes to make a teeny bit of oil. What a patient process. They partner with other local makers to create soaps, lotions, candles and if you time it right, they will even have lavender honey right from their beehive!
A special thanks to Carol and Dan for showing us around your peaceful and bountiful farm – We loved it!
Essential Oils. It seems they can be found everywhere. We recently had a workshop with an ultra awesome “Scent Jeanne” (magic in a bottle – get it?) who has her own skin care line and has spent 20 years researching and experimenting with essential oils, teas and natural remedies. After a talk about plants and their properties, possible uses for them and ways essential oils are obtained from the plants, we headed outside blindfolds and essential oils on hand. Jeanne loves the brand Mountain Rose Herbs because of their craft and attention to the growth, care and harvesting of their plants. Eden’s Garden is also a brand she appreciates the quality of.
One by one, accompanied by a breeze and the sunshine, we teamed up to explore our experiences with different scents. I partnered with the famous Emmy, with one person blindfolded, the other dabbed oils on a q-tip and allowed our brains to figure out what they thought of it. And boy, did mine think! In retrospect, I wonder how great my sense of smell is. I couldn’t tell if it was that I was trying too hard or I simply couldn’t smell as well as I thought I could. Later, we had a scavenger hunt in which we would smell the plants in Jeanne’s garden and pair it by smell with the right oil! That was tricky stuff, but it was super duper fun!
Thank you to Jeanne for just being so cool and teaching us about all of this radical stuff and to Emmy for being my excellent buddy and class partner! We hope this post made a lot of “scents” (get it?).