Hunting for Fossilized Shark Teeth and Arrowheads: What to Look for

Long-time followers know that our family spends a lot of time looking for fossilized shark teeth, arrowheads and all kinds of artifacts, fossils and rocks.

(Scroll through this Instagram slideshow to see some of Toria’s finds from the other day.)

We have taken many friends to our local lakes over the years to introduce them to the hobby and teach them what to look for.

Today, we met some friends at a nearby lake to try to find something noteworthy.  Our friend Rebecca is very interested in history and that includes this sort of thing, so we promised to do our best to teach her how to spot the many fossils and artifacts that are generally all around us.

It is very hard to find things like petrified wood, fossilized shark teeth and arrowheads, but they are definitely still all around us and it’s surprisingly easy to find them once you know what you’re looking for.  Daryl and the kids have often found fossils and small pieces of petrified wood in parking lots.

Like four leaf clovers, part of the trick is learning to really look at the ground and pay attention to what’s around us.

If your kids want to improve their luck finding these sorts of geologic and archeological treasures, I recommend finding examples (in photos, books and real life) and really looking at them.  Look at examples of arrowheads and learn to notice what the rock itself looks like (typically flint) and how it is “worked” on most sides (notched from being struck with a tool to shape it).  Notice how there is usually a groove on both sides of the bottom to hold the arrowhead on to the arrow.


You’ll notice that the point is broken off this one, which is not uncommon.  This is many hundreds of years old, after all, and could also have broken off on impact during hunting.

Notice the very definite shape of the bottom though.  Arrowheads will almost always have the notched sides on the bottom and that distinctive shape.

This is an exception, an arrowhead that Daryl found today (alongside a fossilized shark tooth).


Notice how it has no notches to hold it onto the shaft of the arrow?  This is a Madison point arrowhead and it was used for war.  When hunting animals, you would want to retrieve your arrow and arrowhead to use again.  When battling in war, you would want the arrowhead to come off of the arrow and be lost in the flesh of the enemy.  Smart, huh?

You will generally find the first type of arrowheads (used for hunting), but if you find this type and you can clearly see where it was worked on the bottom and that it wasn’t simply broken off, you know that arrowhead was made for battle.

When looking for fossilized shark teeth (for those of us who live in inland states like Minnesota that were once under the Great Inland Sea), you also will learn to look for the characteristic colors and sheen of fossilized shark teeth.

This is a shark tooth that our friend found today.


Notice the classic shark tooth shape and the glossy, dark material.  You’ll see that it differs in a lot of ways from the shark tooth above (which was also found today), which is from a different type of shark and a different era.  Still, they both have similar shapes, size and color.

This particular shark is probably from a Crow Shark, and the shark probably lived over 65 million years ago.  (See this page Daryl wrote up here a few years ago for more about identifying various fossilized shark teeth you find and how to date them.)

Pretty astounding way to study history and science, and help them come to life, huh?   🙂

If anybody is interested in learning more about how to help their kids ID these kinds of things, leave a note and I’ll try to talk more about how to do it in the future.


An Epic Nature Study Fail

As I posted earlier in the week, we’re house sitting at Tiffany’s house in Nebraska this week.

Tiffany’s house is fabulous.  It’s roomy and relaxing, with lots of white.  This week, it also has lots of something else.


Ants.  Not tiny little back yard ants, but impressively large, black ants who march along as if they are on very serious business.

Tiffany is a rather live-and-let-live kind of person.  She lets insects pretty much do what they want, and they pretty much leave her alone.  So she warned me that they had suddenly appeared last week and said that I could do what I wanted about them once they left but that she was just letting them be.


I was not fond of the ants.  They had the unfortunate habit of appearing on my arms or legs as I was cooking in the kitchen, which did not leave me feeling calm and peaceful.  They also intruded on my cooking area, which I did not take kindly to as I do a lot of cooking and do not like sharing the space with giant interloping insects.

Live and let live, though…

So I did what any homeschooling mama would do.  I googled for key words like “kids science make humane bug catcher” and such and came up with this.

So we made a bug catcher!  Brilliant, huh?


Um, no……

First off, these ants are huge.  We’re pretty sure they’re carpenter ants because they are not the dainty little ants we’re used to seeing.  So when you put the straw next to them, you have to put it right next to them and you feel like you’re trying to squeeze a hippo into a pair of panty hose.

Second of all, even though there is gauze wrapped around the straw you suck through, it is extremely unnerving to try to suck up a large ant.  Your brain will try very hard to stop you.  It is also extremely hard to convince your 9 year old son to suck up a large ant, even if he is usually pretty fearless about weird, gross and otherwise bizarre challenges.

But poor Alex finally acquiesced and attempted to suck up the first subject.


Turns out that big ants are heavy, and you have to put the straw practically on top of them.  Okay….

So he did that, and voila!  An ant got sucked right in…. halfway through the straw, and he was busily running back out of it.  This resulted in me shouting, “You have to suck more!” and Alex giving a mighty suck and then a very annoyed face.

“It tastes awful!  It’s like lemon, but awful!” he scowled.

I assured him that was impossible and it was probably just an odor that had been in the straw or jar.  Nonetheless, he refused to suck up another ant.

I recruited Toria next, who was not too keen on the idea despite her usual gung-ho attitude about anything nature related.  Still, she gave it a go — And promptly gasped, gagged and started looking for places to spit.

She announced that she’d just got a mouthful of the worst taste she’d ever tasted.

A google search confirmed our suspicions, that ants release formic acid (the same chemical that stings when they bite you) when they believe they are under attack, like if you try to suck them through a straw into a mayonnaise jar.

Yep, both of my poor kids had basically huffed ant toxin.

We ended up with one very annoyed ant whom we released outside, and a house full of absolutely safe ants remaining, because none of us are about to use that contraption again.

Still, they’re almost all gone today.  Live and let live does work pretty well if you have the patience (and get good at flicking them to the ground with an index card).

The bug catcher project site is full of videos of kids who successfully made one of these things.  I guess we just got unlucky.

I’m pretty sure our days of making bug catchers are over, though.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Swapping Homeschools


We’re at Tiffany’s again (me, Toria, Fiona and Alex), but this time we’re at their house without their family.  We’re house sitting for the week while they’re on vacation — at the condo where we usually stay when we’re on vacation.

We’ve been here so many times over the years, but this is the first time that none of their family has been here with us!  Even when we came to watch the kids while Tiffany was having Milllie, we had the older kids here with us.  It’s quite a different experience!

To make matters even more unusual for us, I’m taking care of one of the little dogs that Tiffany tends to during the days, so twice a day I walk over with one or all of the kids and we take a very enthusiastic little Yorkie (I think!) on a very long, very enthusiastic walk as she makes little rhino noises (I swear!) and tries to pull us as 70 mph despite her tiny little legs and old age.  Then we make sure that all of her needs are met in her house and tuck her in her little bed on the couch and make sure her music is on until the next time we check on her.  It’s quite fun, especially since we’ve never had a little dog and we miss our wonderful collie rescue, Layla, who died last fall.

During the days, the kids jump on the trampoline and play Mario Cart, play educational games online and just play.  Toria and I read and surf the internet.  At night, I cook dinner and we watch our favorite shows on Hulu (Nashville for me and Toria, Smallville for all of us) and then read books before bed.

We all also do a LOT of yoga every day.  Tiffany and Co. do a lot of yoga and have mats and recommended apps for us, and we are big on the whole “when in Rome” thing!

Of course, we don’t do yoga quite as gracefully or peacefully as they do.

Don’t even try to tell me in all seriousness to yearn my sternum forward!  Yearn my sternum forward????  This is not a legitimate instruction.  🙂

Toria told me I was very difficult to do yoga with because I make her laugh too much.  Laughter is healthy, right?

We also drink proper English tea all day (since Tiffany is both proper and English) — though we add copious amounts of sugar that proper English people disapprove of!).

Tiffany’s house is the opposite of mine in most ways.  Mine is crowded and noisy.  Hers is minimalistic and quiet.  Mine is full of color.  Hers is almost entirely white (even the painted wood floors and full-wall fireplace).  Mine is chaos, hers is calm.  Mine is filled with oddities (brain coral, replica dinosaur teeth, jars of sand from all different colors of beaches around the world, musical instruments, historic costume pieces….).  Hers is filled with just a few well chosen items.

So it’s fun to be here, and good for us to live this other life.  We rise early and keep things tidy.  We do yoga and drink tea.  We eat smaller portions and walk miles every day.  But then we also play games and watch shows and act silly, because we’re still us, too.  🙂

We have a million things to get back to as soon as we’re back in Minnesota.  I have to finish my elderberry book.  We have to finish our portion of the renovations on our house.  There are tryouts soon for the Wilder Pageant and all sorts of opportunities and obligations for all of us.

But this week, we’re in Nebraska, living this life.  And it’s pretty wonderful too.



Happy Solstice!

Today was our family holiday for the winter season.  Every solstice, we open our presents to and from each other and have our own little celebration together, before Christmas Eve and Christmas and all of the mayhem of that season with extended family.

We had a sweet day.  There were hours of unwrapping, as a family of our size takes some time when we open presents one at a time.  Then there was general fun and mayhem as kids played with presents, read books and experimented with various gifts.

Now I’m heading down to finish supper and start our annual candle lighting tradition of welcoming back the light.  We’ll turn off every light and then talk about how today is the shortest day of the year but that after today, the sunlight will return.  Then the kids will run through the house turning on every light in the place, shouting out words of welcoming to the light for coming back.

Here in Minnesota where we have such long, cold, dark winters, this ritual always seemed especially fitting.  🙂

Happy solstice to you and your family.  Merry Christmas, happy Yule, happy holidays.  Here’s wishing the best of the season in whatever ways you celebrate.

Burned Out After Only 14 (or 41 Cumulative) Years of Homeschooling…

I’m really struggling as a homeschooling mom lately.  I’ve lost my motivation and I feel increasing pressure to get it back for the sake of the younger kids.

Toria has now officially finished homeschool.  She was educated at home from preschool through 12th grade, minus a few notable days in her junior year where she tried a public arts school three hours away (and promptly asked to leave it).

That’s 14 years done with child number one.  And there are 12 years done with child number two, 9 years with child number three, 5 years with child number four and now a year of preschool for child number 5.

If you could add them together cumulatively, you could say I’ve now homeschooled 41 years.  I know that’s not how it works, but it feels like it some days!  🙂

That’s a lot of educational games, historical adventures, science projects, read-alouds, lapbooks and lesson plans.


And also a lot of math programs purchased that were never used, failed attempts to start curricula, projects never finished and abandoned lesson plans.

It’s September, and that used to mean a renewed excitement about a new school year.  I think the first 12 years or so, we always did something fun for the first day not back to school.  There were cakes and carnivals, not-back-to-school pajama parties and trips to the zoo.



This year, I didn’t even remember that I was blowing that off for two weeks.

I’m struggling to fit a new writing job into the mix, along with more and more jobs around the house — preparing for house renovations, canning hundreds of pounds of pears and applesauce, keeping up with laundry and cooking and with what’s left of my garden after the slugs descended.

I also miss my old homeschool communities.

When I started homeschooling all those years ago, I started a yahoo group for homeschool moms and dads who practiced attachment parenting.  I found that I really needed a support system of other parents like myself, who weren’t homeschooling to avoid something negative in schools but just for the love of our kids and a desire to give them a happy educational life in addition to a happy childhood.  I found that I got along fine with parents of other faiths and other homeschool styles but I didn’t get along at all with the punitive homeschoolers who forced their kids to do hours of schoolwork and punished and controlled their kids.  That yahoo group became a large, vibrant group that really kept me company on this adventure over the years. It’s also how I met friends who became “real life” friends around the country, such as my friend Tiffany whom we visit so often.

Unfortunately, Facebook has sort of meant the end of email groups.  While the group still exists, we rarely chat.  And yes, there are many homeschooling groups on Facebook, but they feel like large crowds of arguing strangers more than an intimate group of friends to talk to about the day.

Blogs have changed, too.  Back then, we homeschool moms didn’t start blogging as in order to make money the way it seems most do these days.  We just wanted that connection and support (and to document it all for ourselves and loved ones), and there were so many moms who poured hours of work into creating free lesson plans for each other to use, making up educational games, scanning fun activities, sharing advice, you name it.

In the first years of this blog, it was hosted at Homeschool Journal and many of us would visit each other’s blogs on that site to check in on each other.  I’m still friends with some of those bloggers on Facebook now, but I don’t think most of them have blogged for years (or not about homeschooling any more).  Life gets busy and changes.  The new generation seems concerned about making things to sell on Teachers Pay Teachers or earning affiliate links or hits for google adsense.  People don’t talk about what their meal plans are for the week and the embarrassing thing their child said in the grocery store, it’s all professional and polished.

And many of my homeschooling friends are almost done with this homeschool business, or at least at a very different place than I am.  I went and kept having more children, so I have a child about to start kindergarten when most of my old homeschool friends are down to just high school kids.

I guess I feel a bit like the middle aged mom who gets unexpectedly pregnant and no longer fits in with friends about to enter their empty nest years but also doesn’t fit in with the young 20-somethings at the park.

I miss my tribe.  And I miss my passion for it all. 

My kids deserve that same enthusiasm that their older siblings got, though, so I’m determined to find it again — or fake it till I make it.

I’m not sure how I’ll do that, but I’ll keep you updated in case it helps someone else.  That’s what I originally created this space to be for, after all.  🙂

(Note:  I wrote this over a week ago and have been so busy with History Fest and other events that it’s been sitting on my dashboard all of this time!  I’m not sure what that says about this issue, but History Fest certainly does bring me back to my homeschooling passions and I can’t wait to share some of this year’s fun with you all!)

10 Fun Ways to Homeschool This Week


It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these lists so I thought I’d toss out some fun ways to mix things up in your homeschool this week….

1.  Start a summer challenge of make sand castle versions of famous buildings and landmarks around the world.

What better way to learn about these amazing structures and their history than to see if there are any you can recreate together on the beach?  Here are some sites with pictures and information to help inspire the kids:

You can use all sorts of creative objects as molds and tools, such as Pringles cans for columns.  If you want a little extra help, they even sell some molds for the task, such as these architectural sand castle molds from Education Planet. There’s the Taj Mahal, the Coloseum, the Parthenon and more!  The molds are also available as a set on Amazon (affiliate link).

This sand castle board on Pinterest can help with the details of how to best construct them.  If you really want to be inspired, check out this project in Japan:

Sand sculptors have taken residency at the world’s first ever sand museum to construct scaled down replicas of London’s architecture and massive tokens of British paraphernalia in honor of the 2012 Olympic Games.

2. Time the kids running around the block each day. See how much they can improve their times by the end of the week. Help them figure out what percent improvement they’ve each made.

3. Try to find 20 different varieties of seeds together. 

IMG_0685There are so many types of seeds and kids can learn so much about plants when they take the time to look for them.  There are wispy seeds like dandelion seeds that travel on the air, burrs that cling to clothes and animal fur to travel to a new site, and giant pods from Pacay trees that are used as musical instruments.

Aim for lots of different types.  Here is all you’d ever want to know about seed types.

To make it more interesting, you can also aim to eat 20 kinds of seeds this week.  Some to try:  sesame seeds, fennel, garbanzo beans, corn, rice, sunflower seeds and millet.  You can also easily seeds in bites of fruit such as kiwis and tomatoes.  Here are even more edible seeds to try out.

4.  Sing “100 bottles of beer on the wall” subtraction style.  Sing the classic song together and then take turns shouting the numbers taken down and then sing the new number together and keep going.

For example:

100 bottles of beer on the wall, 100 bottles of beer, take (someone shouts out… 8!) down, pass them around, 92 bottles of beer on the wall.  92 bottles of beer on the wall, 92 bottles of beer, take (someone shouts… 5!) down, pass them around, 87 bottles of beer on the wall….

5.  Make dandelion syrup. 

This is a fun tradition at our house.  Not only do the kids love gathering all the yellow dandelion flowers to make it, but the finished syrup is unbelievably tasty.  It’s a bit like honey but a bit more complex, since it has subtle dandelion flavor, cloves and lemon zest.  You can use it just like honey or maple syrup in recipes or drizzled on foods like cornbread.

Daryl wrote up the step-by-step directions in his Cooking with Kids column, and he updated it with additional information later like how many flowers are in a cup the easiest ways to separate the petals from the flower heads.

6.  Build paper boats and race them.

Here are some easy instructions.

7.  Plan and build something. Whether it’s a tree house or a bird house, drawing up the plans will develop skills like measuring, determining area and budgeting.

8.  Play math games with chalk on the driveway.

For instance, draw big circles and write numbers in each circle. Have the kids hop to the right answer.  I have lots of ways to do driveway math for all ages and difficulty levels (along with other hands-on math activities for summertime) in Living Math Ideas for August.

9.  Have the kids do homeschool up a tree.  It doesn’t matter if it’s finishing an old workbook or reading a good book, everything is more fun in a tree!

10. Make a pan of oobleck big enough to jump in!  This mix of corn starch and water is a popular craft/activity for most of us for a reason.  It’s cheap, it’s easy and it’s super fun!  It’s even more fun if you make enough of it that the kids can jump in it (or on it), though.  Even a small pan works for the little ones.  Kids will land on top if it when they jump, but if they just stand there they will start to sink in because of the properties of non-Newtonian fluids.  Jack adored jumping in/on oobleck when he was a preschooler (Side note: He just turned 12! How is that possible?).

ooblek1.jpgHere’s some info from Scientific American about the science of oobleck, and here’s a great video by the fabulous Hank Green about the science of oobleck and non-Newtonian fluids.

What’s on your agenda for the week?

Have fun!

(Note:  A few of these were lifted from my article 25 Fun things to do in your homeschool this summer.  Check it out if you want some more fun summer homeschool ideas, or check out 50 Fun and easy ways to play outside this summer for activities that are just plain fun.)

10 Fun Ways We've Learned and Played Lately

Oh my goodness, I’m so behind in this sort of thing!  I’m not sure I’ll even remember much of what we’ve been up to.  Here’s a bit though!

1.  We went to a Civil War Days reenactment and had a fabulous time.  We watched a battle, learned to do various ballroom dances, listened to Lincoln (okay, a man who liked to pretend he was Lincoln!) and learned soooooo much.  Next year we’re taking part!  I’m pretty sure I mentioned it earlier but I wanted to share a few pics…

2.  We watched Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives.  It was funny and interesting!

3.  We have looked at a billion more things with our awesome Brock Magiscope.

4.  We went to an art center and studied amazing exhibits (and got a fabulous idea for our next art project!).

5.  We went to the Lake Benton Rendesvous, where we watched a couple of gunfights and browsed the merchandise for sale (arrowheads, old fashioned toys, hard candy, primitive tech stuff, etc.).

6.  We watched deer, dragonflies, herons and other wildlife that let us get close enough.

7.  We went to the pet store and saw all sorts of amazing creatures.   (Photos by Victoria)

8.  We made new friends at a musical get-together in Mankato of people on the secular MN HS list.  Daryl even taught the kids how to play the spoons and gave them each a set to take home.

9.  We went to Fort Pipestone.

10.  We climbed trees, had parties, went camping, had a sleepover, went to the zoo, went to the mall, went to the movies, blogged, read a billion books, walked the Sculpture Walk in Sioux Falls, rode bikes, threw the atlatl, watched movies, made up songs, did art, read stories, cuddled, acted like goofs, surfed the net, played games, used play dough, made glitter/glue messes, cleaned, went to farmers’ markets, tried new things, went new places and otherwise had a pretty good time.  🙂

Out of Order is redesigning their whole site, which means articles are wonky, pictures are missing, errors are widespread, and for a few examiners, entire columns are missing.

Yep, I’m one of the unlucky few.

If you follow my homeschooling column, you probably already know that it’s all gone — all redirected to someone else’s page no matter how you try to access it.

I’ve been told that it should be back by Monday.  In the meantime, I’m not writing new articles there.  The latest one was great ways to mark the first day of homeschool and that one was sucked into the abyss, so hopefully that will be up along with all my other ones tomorrow.

Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, here’s some I’ve written in my AP and green living columns…

Researchers say babies sleep better when parents are emotionally responsive

When it comes to helping little ones get a good night’s sleep, you’ll hear advice about everything from co-sleeping to darkness to schedules.  A new study suggests that the details are less important than…

Kissing hands to lunch box jokes: Ways to make first days at school easier

Little ones can feel mighty anxious about heading off to school without us.  School can feel scary and overwhelming, especially if kids are starting school for the first time or starting in a new school…

Family to travel the USA to help others

Many of us talk about wanting to live more simply or do more to help the world, but one young family is really putting that in action.  The Sheaffer family is selling their home and most of their belongings in order to embark on an RV adventure…

Broken bones, hospital stays and sick days: Making down time a little easier on kids

Recently, a mother wrote and asked me for suggestions on how to make the days a little easier for her daughter while she was in the hospital for regular treatments for an illness.  Whether kids have broken bones, a chronic illness or are just…

10 Fun ways to get kids ready to read

It’s back to school time in Minnesota and around the country, and the time of the year when parents are most prone to worrying about what their kids can and cannot do. If reading is a skill on your child’s horizon…

Join in the Eat Local Challenge — August 15 to September 15!

It’s the easiest time of year to eat locally grown food, and a nationwide challenge is working to give people an extra push to try it themselves.  The Eat Local Challenge, sponsored by food coops such as Whole Foods, asks people to commit to…

26 Healthy lunchbox choices

It’s nearly back to school time and it’s time to start thinking of lunchbox options.  If your kids bring a lunch to school, here are 26 healthy choices to put inside.

How to make avocado pit pendants

Here’s a simple, sweet craft that’s free to make and as eco-friendly as they come!  Avocado pit pendants are charming, personalized creations that are easy to create and surprisingly beautiful.

Should you be worried about BPA in receipts?

News spread through the internet recently about the fact that many receipts are now treated with BPA.  The warning was featured on NPR’s Science Friday, The Washington Post, CBS News and the UK’s Daily Mail, just to name a few…

What’s the big deal about BPA?

BPA has been in the news a lot lately.  The Environmental Working Group has found that many receipts contain the compound, as well as a host of other products.  Consumers are anxious to avoid exposure to BPA, but it can be difficult…

Green Living 101: What food brands and products are BPA-free?

So you know you want to avoid BPA, but it seems to be everywhere.  Even organic canned tomatoes contain the worrisome compound.  How do find products that are BPA free?

Here’s a list of brands, foods and products to look for…

Harvest recipes: Zucchini apple crisp

It’s that time of year when zucchini is becoming so plentiful in Minnesota back yards and farmers’ market stalls that people can barely give it away.  Here’s a recipe that tastes so good you’ll wish you planted more.

Site rates the 25 most unhealthy kids’ meals

The Daily Beast has compiled a list of the 25 most unhealthy restaurant kids’ meals and the results are pretty dismal.  With many meals far surpassing the average child’s calorie needs for an entire day…